Historical Jesus and Mormonism





Examining All the Evidence for a Historical Jesus

Below is a list of the very best possible examples of "evidence" that Jesus existed. Many of you may be surprised to learn how weak a case there is that Jesus ever really lived. Open your mind and carefully review the analysis below.

Let's examine all the "evidence" of a historical Jesus, followed by a conclusion at the end. The "evidence" is in italics, the responses are in bold:

Josephus, a court historian for Emperor Vespasian,(37-94 C.E.) recorded:
"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 to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. [He was the Messiah.] And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men 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 at 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 at this date." (Jewish Antiquities XVIII 63f, later interpolations in brackets)

For hundreds of years, Catholic historians have used these paragraphs in Josephus' writings as "proof' that Jesus existed. That is, until scholars began to examine the text a little more critically. No serious scholar now believes that any of these passages mentioning Jesus were actually written by Josephus. They have been clearly identified as much later additions. They are not the same writing style as Josephus and if they are removed from the text, Josephus' original arguments run in their proper sequence.

In other writings supposedly attributed to Josephus, we read that as Jesus had miraculously cured Pilate's wife of a sickness, Pilate let him go. However, the Jewish priests later bribed Pilate to allow them to crucify Jesus "in defiance of all Jewish tradition." As for the resurrection, Josephus' alleged writings say Jesus' body could not have been stolen by his disciples, since "guards were posted around his tomb, 30 Romans and 1,000 Jews"!

Further proof that these references to Jesus are fake, scholars point to the fact that Origen, writing in the third century tells us that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ.

A letter to the Corinthian church, By Clement (elder of Rome) in 95 CE:
"The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.

This quote supposedly from Clement of Rome, was said by Eusebius,to have been the fourth Bishop of Rome around 90 C.E. However, scholars now know that numerous letters attributed to this "Clement of Rome" were forged in the fourth and fifth centuries. The above quote is among those fake letters.

For those who still insist that the above quote from Clement is accurate, then read the whole letter, in which Clement vigorously attacks Paul as a misguided heretic. These fake Clement letters also describe Peter as vehemently denying Paul's status as an apostle. Clement supposedly says Paul's vision on the road to Damascus was from an evil demon or lying spirit and that Jesus is angry with Paul and that Paul is his "adversary." Those Clement letters are known forgeries written hundreds of years after the supposed events.

Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor around 110 CE, wrote a Letter to Trajan, saying:
.. For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought to me on the charge of being Christians. I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if the admit it, I repeat the questions a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away to execution ... There have been others similarly fanatical who have been Roman citizens. I have entered them on the list of persons to be sent to Rome for trial... the charges are becoming more widespread ... an anonymous pamphlet has been circulated which contains the names of a number of accused persons. Amongst these I considered I should dismiss any who denied that they were or ever had been Christians when they had repeated after me a formula of invocation to the gods and made offerings of wine and incense to your statue ... and furthermore had reviled the name of Christ; none of which things, I understand, any genuine Christian can be induced to do.

Others ... first admitted the charge and then denied it; they said they had ceased to be Christians two or more years previously, and some even 20 years ago. ... They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: that they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery ... After this ceremony it had been their custom to disperse and re-assemble later for food of an ordinary harmless kind; but they had in fact given up this practice since my edict, issued on your instructions, which banned all political societies. This made me decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate cult carried to extravagant lengths ... a great many individuals of every age and class, both men and women, are being brought to trial, and this is likely to continue. It is not only the towns, but villages and rural districts too which are infected through contact with this wretched cult. (Letters X 96)

The above quote only proves that there were Christians, which is not in question here. Notice that it never mentions an alleged historical figure named "Jesus" but refers to a Christ figure. Remember, the term "Christ" simply means a Messiah. This quote tells us nothing about a historical Jesus and is not evidence of his existence.

A letter to the Trallians, written by Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch), between 110-115 CE:
"Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe on Him."

Much like the fake letters of Clement, the supposed writings of Ignatius of Antioch are known by modern scholars as forgeries. The above quote comes from six spurious letters written in the fourth century and attributed to Ignatius of Antioch. The church historian Eusebius (260-340 C.E.), known as "the father of Church history" noted in his diary that letters attributed to Clement and Ignatius had "appeared recently." When historical documents were found, Eusebius referred to them as "discovered" and he always used the word "appeared' for works of known contemporary (fourth century) origin.

In other words, the above quote comes from a work which is now known to be a forgery.

Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 CE) was considered to be "the greatest historian" of ancient Rome. In the Roman Annals 15.44, he speaks of Emperor Nero going after Christians, in hopes to draw away attention from himself after Rome's fire of 64 CE.:
"But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished 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, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind."

"Consequently ... Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations. Called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberias at the hands of ... Pontius Pilatus, and a deadly superstition, thus checked for a moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City."

This writing from Tacitus is not contemporary, however, but dates from about 50 years after the event. The only thing that would make Tacitus' writings an independent testimony to the existence of Jesus and not merely the repetition of Christian beliefs would be if he had gained this information about Christ being crucified under Pontius Pilot from the copious records the Romans kept of their legal dealings. But this is not the case, for Tacitus calls Pilate the "procurator" of Judea, when he was in fact a "prefect," so Tacitus is clearly not returning to the records of the time but quoting hearsay information from his own day. Again, no proof here that a historical Jesus ever existed.

Around 221 CE, Julius Africanus writes about a discovered reference in the writings of Thallus, dealing with the darkness that covered the land during Christ's crucifixion. Thallus' book was a history of the Eastern Mediterranean that was written around 52 CE:
"Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun--unreasonably, as it seems to me." [A solar eclipse could not take place during a full moon, as was the case during Passover season.]

The fact that a solar eclipse did or did not occur is not in question here. This reference does not refer directly to a historical Jesus, nor does it imply that Jesus ever existed. The most this quote could possibly prove is that Thallus is a real historical figure who recorded it, which itself is in doubt, since no astronomers of the time in China - or anywhere in the west recorded such an event in the sky. But even if the eclipse occurred, it is not evidence that Jesus existed outside the imagination of early Christians.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas, a contemporary of Tacitus and chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE),records in his Life of Claudius (XXv.4):
"As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."

The term "Chrestus" is a generic term for "Messiah." Josephus also mentions various would-be Jewish Messiah figures in Judea yet none of them are described as the alleged Jesus of Christianity. This is a far cry from proof that Jesus was a historical figure.

In his Life of Nero (XV1.2) he says "punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and wicked superstition".

Nobody is disputing that there were Christians in Rome. This is not proof of a historical Jesus any more than saying Christmas parties are proof that Santa Claus is real.

Tosefta Hullin 2:22-24 tells us of a Rabbi Ishmael, who died around 135CE:
"Rabbi Eleazar ben Dama was bitten by a snake. And Jacob of Kefar Sama came to heal him in the name of Jesus ... and Rabbi Ishmael did not allow him" and Eleazar died.

Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a, compiled between 70 and 200 CE, speaks of Jesus' crucifixion, saying:
"On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, `He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover."

Both of these come from the Talmud, which was written in Hebrew, not English. The word "Yeshu" is a shortened form of "Yehoshua" or "Joshua," which in Greek becomes "Jesus." The fact that the talmud mentions the word "Yeshu" is not extraordinary. Yeshu was an extremely common name that could refer to any number of people. In fact, Josephus mentions at least 10 different Jesuses, although it is revealing to note that some translations of Josephus only translate the passages that they want the reader to identify with Jesus Christ using the Greek version of the name we all recognize, while leaving the names of all the other Jesuses in the un-translated Hebrew.

Even if the above sentence does refer to Jesus and not some other Yeshu, it cannot be taken as proof of Jesus' existence, because it was written so late. Although based on older writings, the Talmud was not written until 200 C.E., and we do not know whether these were early passages. Anyway, the rabbis of the Talmud are so vague in their chronology that they differ by as much as 200 years in the dates they assign to the figure that may or may not be Jesus!"

The Greek satirist Lucian, of second century, said:
"The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day, the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account...You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods, alike, regarding them merely as common property."

Again, this is not about Jesus, but about his followers and was written hundreds of years too late to be an actual account of a historical Jesus. Lucian is commenting on the beliefs of Christians, not Jesus. If this is proof of Jesus, then Star Trek fans are proof that Captian Kirk is real, Star Wars fans are proof that Obi Wan Kanobi is real, and Christmas parties are proof the Santa Claus is real.

Mara Bar-Serapion, of Syria wrote to his son from prison, to motivate him to emulate great teachers like Socrates, Pythagoras, and Jesus Christ. In this letter, dating between 70 and 200 CE, He tells his son:
"What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burying Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given."

Again, there is no direct reference to a historical Jesus here. It mentions the Jews executing a wise king, but since the author mentions Pythagoras, who died in 497 B.C. and Socrates who died in 399 B.C., it's more likely that he is referring to an ancient "wise man" king, not Jesus.

Furthermore, there is a great deal of Gnostic writings about Jesus in the Nag Hammadi Liabrary.

The Gospel of Truth, written around 135-160 CE, by Valentius (most likely), says:
"For when they had seen him and had heard him, he granted them to taste him and to smell him and to touch the beloved Son. When he had appeared instructing them about the Father... For he came by means of fleshly appearance."

"Jesus, was patient in accepting sufferings... since he knows that his death is life for many... he was nailed to a tree; he published the edict of the Father on the cross... He draws himself down to death through life... eternal clothes him. Having stripped himself of the perishable rags, he put on imperishability, which no one can possibly take away from him."

The Aprocryphon of John, written around 120-130 CE, by Saturninus (most likely), says:
"It happened one day when John, the brother of James,--who are the sons of Zebedee--went up and came to the temple, that a Pharisee named Arimanius approached him and said to him, `Where is your master whom you followed?' And he said to him, `He has gone to the place from which he came.' The Pharisee said to him,`This Nazarene deceived you with deception and filled your ears with lies and closed your hearts and turned you from the traditions of your fathers.'"

The Treatise On Resurrection, written by an unknown author of the second century:
"The Lord... existed in flesh and... revealed himself as Son of God... Now the Son of God, Rheginos, was Son of Man. He embraced them both, possessing the humanity and the divinity, so that on the one hand he might vanquish death through his being Son of God, and that on the other through the Son of Man the restoration to the Pleroma might occur; because he was originally from above, a seed of the Truth, before this structure of the cosmos had come into being."

"For we have known the Son of Man, and we have believed that he rose from among the dead. This is he of whom we say, `He became the destruction of death, as he is a great one in whom they believe.' Great are those who believe."

"The Savior swallowed up death... He transformed himself into an imperishable Aeon and raised himself up, having swallowed the visible by the invisible, and he gave us the way of our immortality."

"Do not think the resurrection is an illusion. It is no illusion, but it is truth. Indeed, it is more fitting to say that the world is an illusion, rather than the resurrection which has come into being through our Lord the Savior, Jesus Christ."

Gospel of Thomas, from 140-200 CE:
"Jesus said, 'It is to those [who are worthy of my] mysteries that I tell my mysteries. Do not ley your left hand know what your right hand is doing.'"

"Jesus said, 'Blessed is the man who has suffered and found life.'" The Gospel of Thomas contains many more alleged quotations of Jesus Christ.

This is the most damning evidence against the existence of a historical Jesus. Christians mistakenly quote the Gnostic writings as proof of a real Jesus. In fact, the Gnostic movement was all about Jesus NOT being a historical figure, but a spiritual guide and myth, much like Dionysus and other ancient religious heroes. These references are from mythical STORIES of Jesus. They are not literal history. Just like the story "Twas the Night Before Christmas" describes the appearance of Santa Claus and him winking his eye, so too, Gnostic authors told stories about Jesus. But just like the New Testament, they are inspiring stories, not historical accounts.

If you disagree and insist that the Gnostic texts are true, literal history, then why are they not part of any modern Christian scripture? And why do the Gnostic texts so strongly contradict the Christian creeds? Up until now, Christians have not claimed that the Gnostic texts are fact. Modern Christian (and non-Christian) scholars agree with the authors of the Gnostic texts that they are mythical writings and should not be taken literally.

Surprisingly, the above "evidences" are all the best hopes for a historical Jesus. And all of them have been thoroughly researched by scholars and found lacking as proof of a historical Jesus. The only people still using such known fake references and mythical Gnostic stories are those who ignore the many hard evidences that the life of Jesus is an allegory.

The time of Jesus' alleged life was an extremely literate period in Human history. Here are a list of known writers who wrote at or within a century of the time Jesus is said to have lived:

Arrian, Pliny the Elder, Martial, Petronius, Appian, Plutarch, Seneca, Juvenal, Apollonius, Dion Preseus, Theon of Smyrna, Pausanias, Valerius Flaccus, Damis, Ptolmy, Florus Lucius, Silius Italicus, Dio Chrysostom, Quintilian, Aulus Gellius, Hermogeones, Favorinus, Statius, Lysias, Lucanus, Columella and Valerius Maximus.

The works of these writers would be enough to fill a library, but NOT ONE OF THEM refers to Jesus. Pretty damn suspicious.

Also, the Romans were obsessed with records and histories, yet there is no mention of a historical Jesus. It could be argued that Roman literature that mentioned Jesus has been lost over time. But surely any such texts would have been carefully preserved by the Roman Church once it held power in the Empire. Not only this, but it is safe to assume that well-educated early Christians, such as Justin Martyr, would have quoted these text in support of Christianity, but they DO NOT. A historical Jesus is missing from ALL the writing of the time, even though writing about historical people was common.

Like countless scholars who have made this quest before, there is no real evidence of a historical Jesus.

Now think about the implications this has for Mormonism...

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