By far the central figure in Christianity, next to God, is Jesus of Nazareth. He is so central to Christian religion that, without him, there would be no Christian religion. Yet only 4 books in the entire Bible actually report on Jesus’ life and ministry. These books, of course, are the 4 gospels that open the New Testament. Tradition tells us that they were written by Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John – four eyewitnesses to Jesus' life and death.
Throughout history, many people have lived and died. We know today nothing about the vast majority of them. A small fraction of these people leave a big enough mark on the world that their existence is recorded into the annals of history for later generations to discover and learn about. Typically, history preserves enough evidence about the most important of these people for historians to learn quite a bit. Historians know a lot about the founders of the United States, King Henry VIII and his six wives, and countless others. This might make you wonder how anyone can prove that a long deceased person actually existed or performed some act. Firstly, allow me to clarify what I mean by “proof”. Proof is by no means black and white – that is, something is either proved about someone or its not. Instead of speaking of “proof”, in the historical sciences it is much clearer to speak of “levels of confidence”. That is, we can have varying levels of confidence in the truth or falsity of a historical claim. The more evidence (and the better), the higher our level of confidence is.
In times before photography, there are two principle sources of evidence that can contribute to our level of confidence. One is writing - either the person wrote something down or someone else wrote something about the person. The best case, obviously, is if the person actually recorded something himself. Yet, just because something seems to be written by someone or about someone doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good evidence. Writings can be forged and faked. Thus, not only must we consider whether or not a piece of writing has been left behind, we must also consider the trustworthiness of that piece of writing. This is why the idea of levels of confidence is so handy. A suspicious piece of writing is going to contribute very low levels of confidence as opposed to one that bares no suspicion. Given a high enough level of confidence, we can proceed to say that the particular claim has been “proven”. The other principle source of evidence is any non-literary material evidence, like a tomb with or without a body, etc.
Jesus, if the Bible is correct, is perhaps the most important person to have ever walked the face of the Earth, yet, as previously mentioned, so little has been claimed to have been written about him by legitimate sources (much has been written about him long after he allegedly lived, to be sure). Jesus didn’t write anything about himself, as far as we know. Jesus left no physical remains (not surprising if he rose from the dead) or any other material object that could be associated with him (the shroud of Turin has been ruled a fake, and so has the so-called “James Ossuary” box). If we, as a critical historian, wish to maintain a high level of confidence that Jesus existed, performed miracles, and rose from the dead, then all that we have to rely on are eyewitness testimonies of his life and works written by people who experienced him firsthand (or, at least, knew someone who experienced him first hand).
This leads us into my topic: Are the gospels trustworthy eyewitness accounts of Jesus? The Bible names the authors of these gospels as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Who were these people?
Matthew is one of Jesus’ named disciples, and surely would have been an eyewitness to his ministry.
John has been identified as the Apostle John, son of Zebedee and brother of James. As a disciple he too would have been an eyewitness to Jesus.
Luke is said to have been one of Paul’s travel companions, “the beloved” physician, and thus would not have been an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry. A 4th century list of New Testament books states unequivocally that Luke did not know Jesus.
John Mark (or John called Mark), purported author of the Gospel of Mark, is mentioned three times in the Bible, in Acts 12:12, 15:37 and 1 Peter 5:13. He is associated with Peter and Paul, and is thought to have been their companion. Eusebius’s Church History says that Mark wrote his gospel as Peter’s interpreter, supposedly writing it in Rome as a summary of Peter’s preaching. If this is true, then Mark himself is not the eyewitness, but rather Peter, one of the Twelve named disciples.
Looking only at the names now attached to the gospels, we can see that 2 would have been eyewitnesses while the other 2 would not have been (Mark would have been an indirect eyewitness, so to speak). If we allow Mark to be Peter’s interpreter, then 3 gospels are possible eyewitness accounts and 1 is not. On the surface, this isn’t bad at all, but can we be sure that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were really the authors of their respected gospels?
No, we cannot. The reality is that the gospel authors never signed their text and their names do not appear anywhere within the body of the text. The titles, “The Gospel According to Mark”, “Matthew”, “Luke”, or “John” are headings that were added sometime late in the second century. Irenaeus of Lyons, who wrote around 180 CE, is the first Christian writer to call the four gospels by their current titles and present them as dependable, authoritative, and written by people who were reputed to be followers of Jesus or in close contact with those who were. The first early Christian author to clearly quote any of the gospels is Justin Martyr, who wrote during the 150s CE, yet he only refers to them as “memoirs of the apostles” and does not name who they were. All of this tells us that the gospels were purposefully left anonymous by their authors and stayed that way until sometime between 150 and 180 CE, when someone decided to give them their current titles.
Thus, the anonymity of the gospel authors means that we will never know who actually composed them, although we can speculate on the author’s personality and situation.
I do not wish to appear picky, but if you are allowing Mark's Gospel to be an eyewitness account because of his association with Peter, then you have to allow Luke's as he apparently wrote his account from eyewitness reports.
Do we have any more evidence the Buddah Shakyamuni, Mohammed, Plato, Confucius, Cicero, or even Julius Caesar?
Btw, what's your response to the following?
After nearly 2,000 years, historical evidence for the existence of Jesus has come to light literally written in stone. An inscription has been found on an ancient bone box, called an ossuary, that reads â€śJames, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.â€ť This container provides the only New Testament-era mention of the central figure of Christianity and is the first-ever archaeological discovery to corroborate Biblical references to Jesus.
Ancient inscriptions are typically found on royal monuments or on lavish tombs, commemorating rulers and other official figures. But Jesus, who was raised by a carpenter, was a man of the people, so finding documentation of his family is doubly unexpected.
In the first century A.D., Jews followed the custom of transferring the bones of their deceased from burial caves to ossuaries. The practice was largely abandoned after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D. No one knows for certain why the practice started or stopped, but it provides a rare period of self-documentation in which commoners as well as leaders left their names carved in stone.
The new find is also significant in that it corroborates the existence of Joseph, Jesusâ€™ father, and James, Jesusâ€™ brother and a leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem. The family relationships contained on the new find helped experts ascertain that the inscription very likely refers to the Biblical James, brother of Jesus (see, for example, Matthew 13:55-56 and Galatians 1:18-19). Although all three names were common in ancient times, the statistical probability of their appearing in that combination is extremely slim. In addition, the mention of a brother is unusual--indicating that this Jesus must have been a well-known figure.
Laboratory tests performed by the Geological Survey of Israel confirm that the boxâ€™s limestone comes from the Jerusalem area. The patina--a thin sheen or covering that forms on stone and other materials over time--has the cauliflower-type shape known to develop in a cave environment; more importantly, it shows no trace of modern elements.
The 20-inch-long box resides in a private collection in Israel. Like many ossuaries obtained on the antiquities market, it is empty. Its history prior to its current ownership is not known.
The container is one of very few ancient artifacts mentioning New Testament figures. One such object is the ossuary of Caiaphas, the high priest who turned Jesus over to the Romans, according to the Biblical account. Caiaphasâ€™s tomb was uncovered in 1990. Also, some 40 years ago, archaeologists discovered an inscription on a monument that mentions Pontius Pilate.
â€śThe James ossuary may be the most important find in the history of New Testament archaeology,â€ť says Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. â€śIt has implications not just for scholarship, but for the worldâ€™s understanding of the Bible.â€ť
1. Christianity was a new religion considered to be a cult by the elite religionists of the time. 2. The pagan central government was opposed to the sect and burnt all they could get their hands on, according to Biblical history. 3. Considering the above, the only written history to be preserved and the only ones to do the writing would be Christians, many of whom were martyred, especially the leaders who would've been the ones to write and to preserve written accounts 4. As was the case with many notables, much of what we know about them has been handed down by others than eye witnesses, mainly by the spoken rather than the written word. I would say the evidence for Jesus surpasses many for this reason, there having been preserved very early manuscripts about him.
[This message has been edited by buzsaw, 12-28-2003]
1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our joy complete.
5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
But 1 John wasn't written until decades after the fact. It certainly wasn't an eyewitness account. The passage you cite is more a declaration of evangelism rather than a claim of actually having seen, say, the crucifixion of Jesus.
Akhenaten is another good example of how this is ridiculous. When his reign was over, the priests tried to do exactly what you claim with regard to Jesus: Destroy all evidence of his existence.
And yet we still have proof.
quote:3. Considering the above, the only written history to be preserved and the only ones to do the writing would be Christians,
Why? Surely the Jews would have taken notice of this amazing Jewish boy, who understood the Law as deeply as a learned scholar while merely a boy, who was performing miracles left and right, etc., etc. Why is it nobody seemed to notice his existence?
quote:4. As was the case with many notables, much of what we know about them has been handed down by others than eye witnesses,
Which automatically makes them suspect. I've already mentioned Homer in another post.
quote:I would say the evidence for Jesus surpasses many for this reason, there having been preserved very early manuscripts about him.
No, there haven't.
The closest we can get to Jesus are documents written decades after his death. All contemporaneous documents seem to have taken absolutely no notice of the person who was capable of raising people from the dead.
quote:Brian: if you are allowing Mark's Gospel to be an eyewitness account because of his association with Peter, then you have to allow Luke's as he apparently wrote his account from eyewitness reports.
But Mark was NOT an eye-witness, so his Gospel (if we assume it WAS by Mark) is NOT an eye-witness account - its HEARSAY.
And, as pointed out above, the Gospels were originally ANONYMOUS documents which were un-named until late 2nd century.
Furthermore, the 2 other synoptics copied the vast majority of G.Mark, word-for-word, showing they were not by eye-witnesses either.
Also, neither the Gospels, nor their contents, nor their authors, are mentioned by any Christians until early-mid 2nd century - the earliest twenty or so Christian documents show NO KNOWLEDGE of the Gospel stories or events.
As pointed out in the OP, the "memoirs of the apostles" become known in mid 2nd century, then Irenaeus names the four Gospels in late 2nd century, (with the earliest vague clues possibly provided by Papias in early-mid 2nd century)
Notably - NO Christian shows any knowledge of the Gospels, their contents, or their authors, until a CENTURY after the alleged events.
A classic example : The EMPTY TOMB is not mentioned by any Christian until mid 2nd century - showing the whole Gospel story is a later myth.
The early Christian documents (e.g. Paul, Clement, Hebrews, Jude, James etc) contain no hard evidence for a historical Jesus of Nazareth - merely mention of a spiritual Iesous Christos derived from scripture.
The documents that DO mention the Gospel stories about Jesus are all from a CENTURY and more after the alleged events.
The Gospels themselves are traditionally dated to late 1st century, yet the evidence shows that they were UNKNOWN, even to Christians until early-mid 2nd century - and that the Gospels were UN-NAMED until late 2nd century. The actual manuscripts of the Gospels date no earlier than 2nd century.
All of which goes to show that Paul's original Iesous Christos was a spiritual being, not historical - then, a century afterward (after the total destruction of Jerusalem), the Gospels stories arise and are repeated ad nauseum.
In sum, the Gospels are stories, written a century later - Jesus of Nazareth is a myth.
The message he specifically gives is : "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. " He writes like a Gnostic who has just had a spiritual experience and can't wait to share it.
But, he makes no mention of being an eye-witness to any historical event - * no mention of the crucifixion * no mention of the empty tomb * no mention of the resurrection * no mention of the cross * no mention of any miracles by Jesus * no mention of any teachings of Jesus * no mention of ANY Gospel events. * no mention of an apostolic tradition
Consider 2:27: "The anointing which you received from him (God) stays with you; you need no other teacher, but you learn all you need to know from his anointing."
This clearly shows the writer had no knowledge of a historical Jesus as a teacher at all - its all about spirits and personal revelations.
The writer specifically argues against those who deny the Son of God - yet never provides any mention of a historical Jesus to bolster his argument, rather spiritual arguments - showing the writer thought of Iesous Christos as a spiritual being, not a historical person.
Finally, this letter of John is almost certainly NOT by John - another forgery from the suspect early Christian records.