The first three Gospels, known as the synoptic gospels, share much material. As a result of various scholarly hypotheses attempting to explain this interdependence, the traditional association of the texts with their authors has become the subject of debate. Though some solutions retain the traditional authorship, other solutions reject some or all of these claims. The solution most commonly held in academia today is the two source hypothesis, which posits that Mark and a hypothetical 2nd source, called the Q document, were used as sources for Matthew and Luke. The Farrer hypothesis dispenses with Q by positing that Matthew used Mark, and Luke used both Matthew and Mark as sources. Other solutions, such as the Agustinian hypothesis and Griesbach hypothesis, posit that Matthew was written first and that Mark was an epitome Scholars who accept the two-source hypothesis or the Farrer hypothesis generally date Mark to just prior to 70, with Matthew and Luke dating to 80–90.Scholars who accept Matthean priority usually date all the synoptic gospels to before 70, with some arguing for dates as early as 40.John is most often dated to 90–100,though a date as early as the 60s, and as late as the second century have been argued by a few.
This of course may not be a great stumbling block, after all few of us were witness to Second World War, and even fewer to First World War, but we have enough material, by personal witness to fill full Libraries, this is not the case with Jesus, most of his contemporaries, never heard of Him, and practically there is no record whatsoever that mention Him even once.
There are passages relevant to Christianity in the works of four major non-Christian writers of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, too late to be contemporaries Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger. However, these writings are generally references to early Christians rather than a historical Jesus. Of the four, Josephus’ writings, which document John the Baptist, James the Just, and Jesus, are of the most interest to scholars dealing with the historicity of Jesus, however many scholars are dubious of the authenticity of the brief passage he deals with, and if real, significantly altered to fit the taste of later Christians.
“About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease to follow him, for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvellous things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.”
Tacitus, in his Annals written c. 115, mentions Christus, without many historical details. There is an obscure reference to a Jewish leader called “Chrestus” in Suetonius. (According to Suetonius, chapter 25, there occurred in Rome, during the reign of emperor Claudius (circa AD 50), “persistent disturbances … at the instigation of Chrestus”.[Mention in Acts of “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.” (Acts of the Apostles 18:1-2) has been conjecturedto refer to the expulsion at the times of these “persistent disturbances”.
Up to this day there has been a great effort by many Christian scholars to infer by the books of the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, that the existence of an Historical Jesus is without question due to the existence of this books, that if not contemporary, are at least a reference of the irrefutable proof of Jesus existence. Unfortunately in my view a good analogy will be to say that the existence of Hamlet a prince in Denmark, of Romeo and Juliet in Verona, and of Don Quixote in La Mancha are irrefutable because the existence of the works of Shakespeare and Cervantes!
In my opinion too much effort, and time is wasted in looking for an Historical Jesus, than in finding out who wrote the Gospels, and what are the Gospels?
Who is this Mathew? Who is Mark, Luke, and above all who is this enigmatic John?
Why try to find an Historical Jesus in works that if Masterpieces on their content, are clearly mean to be read as an allegory?
Should we be arguing about Aesop’s Fables, and debate if the fox, the grapes, the hare and the turtle really existed?
Apollonious of Tyana, a 1st century AD philosopher, is recorded as having said about Aesop:
… like those who dine well off the plainest dishes, he made use of humble incidents to teach great truths, and after serving up a story he adds to it the advice to do a thing or not to do it. Then, too, he was really more attached to truth than the poets are; for the latter do violence to their own stories in order to make them probable; but he by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events. (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book V:14)
Can we get over the Historical nonexistence of a Mythological Solar Hero, so common in antiquity, that scholars in the 18Th century start to question the Historic Jesus, first emerged when critical study of the Gospels developed in the 18th century, and some English deist towards the end of that century are said to have believed that no historical Jesus existed.
The primary forerunners of the nonhistoricity hypothesis are usually identified as two thinkers of the French Enlightenment, Constantin- Francois Chasseboeuf, known as Volney, and Charles Francois Dupuis. In works published in the 1790s, both argued that numerous ancient myths, including the life of Jesus, were based on the movement of the sun through the zodiac.
Dupuis identified pre-Christian rituals in Syria, Egypt and Persia, that he believed represented the birth of a god to a virgin mother at the Winter Solstice, and argued that these rituals were based upon the winter rising of the constellation Virgo. He believed that these and other annual occurrences were allegorized as the life-histories of Solar deities such as Sol Invictus, who passed their childhoods in obscurity (low elevation of the sun after the solstice), died (winter) and were resurrected (spring). Dupuis argued that Jewish and Christian scriptures could also be interpreted according to the solar pattern: the Fall of Man in Genesis was an allegory of the hardship caused by winter, and the Resurrection of Christ as the Pascal lambat Easter represented the growth of the Sun’s strength in the sign of Aries at the spring Equinox Drawing on this conceptual foundation, Dupuis rejected the historicity of Jesus entirely, explaining Tacitus reference to Jesus as nothing more than an echo of the inaccurate beliefs of Christians in Tacitus’ own day.
Many other people since have disputed the Historic Jesus, so many that it will be imposible to talk about all of them, which is a pity since many of them have different views, and deny the existence of a real Jesus, in favor of a Mythological Jesus, but the trouble doesn’t end there, even between those who believe in a Historical man have come to dispute between themselves about Jesus Nature!
The early Christians first defined how Jesus is related to God the Father, in the late first and early second century.Many of the Christological controversies of the first two centuries of the common era had direct implications for later thinking about how the human and divine are related within the person of Jesus.
Within the early church Christological positions known as Arianism and Ebionitism were held by some, which argued that Jesus was an ordinary mortal. Other groups, including Gnosticism, held docetic views which argued that Christ was a spiritual being that only appeared to have a physical body.Tensions within the Church between Christological positions that stressed the humanity of Jesus and Christological positions that stressed the divinity of Jesus lead to schisms within the church in the second and third century, and church councils of the fourth and fifth-century were convened to deal with the issues. They decreed that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human, making this part of orthodox Christian declaration/creed.
In time this brought dissension between the church, and through the years several ecumenical councils were summoned in order to come to a Universal common agreement about the Nature of Jesus, The Nicene Council in 325, the Council of Ephesus in 421, the Council of Chalcedon in 451, where is redundant to say the issue couldn’t be resolved to everybody satisfaction, and that in consequence the church suffered many schisms, some mayor, others small, we have no time to go in to this Councils, but you can further deepen in to this question reading about it if interested on the Theological take about the Nature of Jesus, as it is there is enough material to put in serious doubt Jesus Historical existence without going in to Byzantine arguments about his Nature!
Now there is many other positions regarding the life of Jesus, we haven’t even touch the Prophetic Tradition of the Jews, and Muslims, all we have done is talking about Christian belief!
JEWS ON JESUS
Judaism has never accepted any of the claimed fulfillment of prophecy that Christianity attributes to Jesus. Judaism also forbids the worship of a person as a form of idolatry, since the central belief of Judaism is the absolute unity and singularity of God .
In Judaism, the idea of God as a duality or trinity is heretical — it’s even considered by some polytheistic. According to Judaic beliefs, the Torah rules out a trinitarian God in Deuteronomy (6:4): “Hear Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”
Nachmanides argued that the central issue separating Christianity and Judaism was not the issue of Jesus’ messiahship, but whether or not Jesus was divine. There was no basis in Judaism, Nachmanides said, for believing in the divinity of the Messiah or, indeed, of any man. To Nachmanides, it seemed most strange “that the Creator of heaven and earth resorted to the womb of a certain Jewess and grew there for nine months and was born as an infant, and afterward grew up and was betrayed into the hands of his enemies who sentenced him to death and executed him, and that afterward… he came to life and returned to his original place. The mind of a Jew, or any other person, cannot tolerate this.” Nachmanides told the Spanish monarch, “You have listened all your life to priests who have filled your brain and the marrow of your bones with this doctrine, and it has settled with you because of that accustomed habit.” Had King James heard these ideas propounded for the first time when he was already an adult, Nachmanides implied, he never would have accepted them.
Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah because he didn’t fulfill Jewish expectations of the Messiah. Something that most Christians ignore now days, save some esoteric Mystical inclined groups are the proofs of the fulfillment of prophecy through signs in the subject in question (Jesus in this case) the subject should posses such characteristics as specified in Scripture, many attempts are made in the Epistles to portrait Jesus fulfilling this prophecies made by earlier Prophets, the subject should be the Incarnation of this signs and symbols, we will bring more on this further down.
MUSLIMS ON JESUS
In Islam the Prophet Isa Alayhi As Salam (Jesus) is considered to be a Messenger of Godwho was sent to guide the People of the Book Israel, and future Christians with a new scripture, the Injil or Gospel. In sharp contrast to Christianity, Islam emphatically denies that Jesus was the Son of God, or that he was divine in any way. While accepting his Virgin Birth, Islam denies that Jesus was ever crucified or resurrected, or that he ever atoned for the sins of mankind; it especially scorns any notions that Jesus is to be worshiped or prayed to.
The Qur’an, considered by Muslims to be God’s final and authoritative revelation to humankind, mentions Jesus twenty-five times. It states that Jesus was born to Maryam as the result of virginal conception, a miraculous event which occurred by the decree of Allah. To aid in his ministry to the Jewish people, Jesus was given the ability to perform miracles, all by the permission of God rather than his own power. According to Islamic texts, Jesus was neither killed nor crucified, but rather he was raised alive up to Heaven The Qur’an states that he will return to Earth near the Day of Judgment to restore justice and defeat the false messiah, also known as the Antichrist along with Iman Mahdi.
Like all Prophets in Islam, Jesus is considered to have been a Muslim, as he preached that his listeners should adopt the “straight path” in submission to God’s will. Islam rejects the idea that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God; the Qur’an emphasizes that Jesus himself never claimed any such thing, and it furthermore indicates that Jesus will deny having ever claimed divinity at the Last Judgment, and that Allah will vindicate him.Rather, the Qur’an emphasizes that Jesus was a mortal man who, like other prophets, had been divinely chosen to spread God’s message. Islamic texts forbid the association of partners with God (shirk) emphasizing the notion of God’s Divine Oneness (tawhīd).
“In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary. Say: “Who then hath the least power against God, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all every – one that is on the earth? For to God belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He createth what He pleaseth. For God hath power over all things.” Qur’an 5:17
Following is a response of the Catholic church to a Jewish inquiry critical of the Epistles.
Modern Catholic Vision
Because Christianity offers the second-most credible claim of any world religion, we opted to provide its most traditional branch — the Catholic Church — with an opportunity to respond to some of our critical observations. In early December, 1995, we forwarded the following three questions to Pope John Paul II:
(1) The Gospels teach that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. We are unclear, however, whether those appearances took place in Jerusalem or in the Galilee (or at both locales). According to our reading, the Galilean accounts seem to rule out prior Jerusalem appearances. Where did Jesus actually appear? If he appeared in Jerusalem, how should we read the Galilean accounts?
(2) We find the genealogy of Jesus provided by the Gospels confusing. Who was Jesus’ paternal grandfather? (We notice that Matthew says that his grandfather was Jacob, but Luke says it was Heli). Also, we notice that Matthew declares that Jesus was separated from King David by only twenty-eight generations, but Luke’s list shows a forty-three generation separation. What does this contradiction mean?
(3) The genealogical line linking Jesus and King David seems to pass through Jesus’ father. But since Jesus was the product of a virgin conception, then he does not share in his father’s Davidic ancestry. How is Jesus a descendent of David?
In a letter from the Vatican dated 19 December 1995, the Pope’s Assessor, Monsignor L. Sandri, responded in the Pope’s name. Monsignor Sandri declined to answer our questions, but informed us that the members of the French Dominican Fathers’ Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem would probably provide satisfactory explanations.
Through facsimile communications, we forwarded our questions to the Ecole Biblique. In a facsimile transmission dated 11 January 1996, Marcel Sigrist, the institute’s director, also declined to answer our questions, but suggested that answers could be found in the world of Raymond E. Brown, a well-known Catholic theologian currently on the staff of Saint Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California.
Again through facsimile communications, we forwarded our questions to Dr. Brown. In a letter dated 22 January 1996, Dr. Brown referred us to writings of his held by the library of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.
(The correspondences from Pope John Paul II, Marcel Sigrist, and Raymond Brown are reprinted at this appendix’s conclusion.)
On 2 February 1996 we visited the Ecole Biblique and examined Dr. Brown’s writings. As Dr. Brown suggested, his writings did address our questions. Here we will summarize the answers we found there.
I. Post-Resurrectional Appearances: Galilee or Jerusalem?
In an essay carrying the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur (official declarations by the Catholic Church that a book is “free of doctrinal or moral error”), Brown admits that the apparent contradiction in records of the post-resurrectional appearances is real. “It is quite obvious,” Brown writes, “that the Gospels do not agree as to where and to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.” “Just as the Jerusalem tradition leaves little or no room for subsequent Galilean appearances,” explains Brown, “the Galilean narratives seem to rule out any prior appearances of Jesus to the Twelve in Jerusalem.” Citing immense textual evidence, Brown then declares his disapproval of the simples solution to the contradiction: “We must reject the thesis that the Gospels can be harmonized through a rearrangement whereby Jesus appears several times to the Twelve, first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee.” Rather, concludes the Church spokesman, “Variations in place and time may stem in part from the evangelists themselves who are trying to fit the account of an appearance into a consecutive narrative.” Brown makes clear that the post-resurrection appearance accounts are creative, substantially non-historical attempts to reconstruct events never witnessed by their respective authors.
II. Genealogical Contradictions
In the same essay, Brown observes that “the lists of Jesus’ ancestors that they [the Gospels] give are very different, and neither one is plausible.”[Brown takes the surprising position that “because the early Christians confessed Jesus as Messiah, for which ‘Son of David’ was an alternative title, they historicized their faith by creating for him Davidic genealogies and by claiming that Joseph was a Davidide.” In another essay, also carrying the Church’s Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, Brown expands upon this proposition:
Increasingly, the purported descent from David is explained as a theologoumenon, i.e., as the historicizing of what was originally a theological statement. If I many give a simplified explanation, the process of historicizing Davidic sonship is though to have gone somewhat in the following way: the Christian community believed that Jesus had fulfilled Israel’s hopes; prominent among those hopes was the expectation of a Messiah, and so the traditional title “Messiah” was given to Jesus; but in Jewish thought the Messiah was pictures as having Davidic descent; consequently Jesus was described as “son of David”; and eventually a Davidic genealogy was fashioned for him.
Brown explains that Matthew probably created fictional genealogical links back to Abraham and David also “to appeal to the mixed constituency of his [Matthew’s] community of Jewish and Gentile Christians.” As evidence that Jesus was really not a descendant of David at all, Brown points out that:
There is not the slightest indication in the accounts of the ministry of Jesus that his family was of ancestral nobility or royalty. If Jesus were a dauphin, there would have been none of the wonderment about his pretensions. He appears in the Gospels as a man of unimpressive background from an unimportant village.
Brown goes even further, calling into question the reliability of large sections of the New Testament. He encourages his readers to face the possibility that portions of Matthew and Luke “may represent non-historical dramatizations:”
Indeed, close analysis of the infancy narratives makes it unlikely that either account is completely historical. Matthew’s account contains a number of extraordinary or miraculous public events that, were they factual, should have left some traces in Jewish records or elsewhere in the New Testament (the king and all Jerusalem upset over the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem; a star which moved from Jerusalem south to Bethlehem and came to rest over a house; the massacre of all the male children in Bethlehem). Luke’s reference to a general census of the Empire under Augustus which affected Palestine before the death of Herod the Great is almost certainly wrong, as is his understanding of the Jewish customs of the presentation of the child and the purification of the mother in 2:22-24. Some of these events, which are quite implausible as history, have now been understood as rewritings of Old Testament scenes or themes.
Brown’s most extreme statement in this regard, appearing in the same essay, suggests that the Pope himself might reject the historicity of the resurrection altogether:
It was this interaction [of the eschatological and the historical] that Pope Paul pointed to in the same address when he spoke of the resurrection as “the unique and sensational event on which the whole of human history turns.” This is not the same, however, as saying that the resurrection itself was a historical event, even though editorial writers quoted the Pope’s speech to that effect.
It is crucial to remember (a) that these words appear in an essay carrying the Church’s approbation; (b) that they were written by a scholar whose works were endorsed by the Ecole Biblique; and (c) that Ecole Biblique is the institution that we were referred to by Vatican authorities.
III. The Virginal Conception
Brown cautions that “we should not underestimate the adverse pedagogical impact on the understanding of divine sonship if the virginal conception is denied.” On the other hand, admits Brown, “The virginal conception under its creedal title of ‘virgin birth’ is not primarily a biological statement.” He stresses that Christian writings about virginal conception intend to reveal spiritual insights rather that physical facts. Because record of the virginal conception appears only in tow Gospels, and there only in the infancy narratives (which Brown suspects are largely fictional), the Catholic theologian tactfully concludes that “biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the virginal conception unresolved.”
Brown mentions the possibility that “early Christians” might have imported a mythology about virginal conception from “pagan or [other] world religions,”[ but never intended that that mythology be taken literally. “Virginal conception was a well-known religious symbol for divine origins,” explains Brown, citing such stories in Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Greco-Roman and ancient Egyptian theologies. He proposes that early Christians “used an imagery of virginal conception whose symbolic origins were forgotten as it was disseminated among various Christian communities and recorded by evangelists.”
Alternatively, Brown also considers the possibility that Christianity’s founders intended to create the impression that an actual virginal conception took place. Early Christians needed just such a myth, Brown notes, since Mary was widely known to have delivered Jesus too early: “Unfortunately, the historical alternative to the virginal conception has not been a conception in wedlock; it has been illegitimacy.” Brown writes that:
Some sophisticated Christians could live with the alternative of illegitimacy; they would see this as the ultimate stage in Jesus’ emptying himself and taking on the form of a servant, and would insist, quite rightly, that an irregular begetting involves no sin by Jesus himself. But illegitimacy would destroy the images of sanctity and purity with which Matthew and Luke surround Jesus’ origins and would negate the theology that Jesus came from the pious Anawim of Israel. For many less sophisticated believers, illegitimacy would be an offense that would challenge the plausibility of the Christian mystery.
In summary, Brown leans towards a less miraculous explanation of Jesus’ early birth.
Now this is heavy stuff the Catholic church admitting we can’t take literally the meaning of the Epistles!
In trying to disentangle the Mythical Jesus from the Historical, and not just a purely allegorical Jesus the question remains, there was ever a Real Jesus?
Up to this day there is no proof of it.
We know of different Religious movements at the time who claimed Jesus for themselves, as we exposed before, with different interpretations of the Gospels, and even with different Gospels now known as Apocrypha:
The term apocrypha is used with various meanings, including “hidden”, “esoteric”, “spurious”, “of questionable authenticity”, and “Christian texts that are not canonical”
So what is my personal views on the issue?
To those of you interested you can check my blog post of November 1, 2009 titled : The Grail.
To access it, go to top of the Home Page, to the right column titled Recent Entries, click at the bottom article of the column, when appearing, at the top of the page of the article, you will see on the left side of your screen an arrow with the title of the past Article, click it until finding the correct title, or go to the bottom of the Home page and click the left arrow Older Entries.
I also believe the Gospels is a Symbolic telling of a character of Mythical proportions, that embody the Archetype of Christ, but it is evident the Gospels describe a Symbolic Jesus, the Christ, this doesn’t mean there never was a Man who embodied in his persona the Mantle of Prophecy, the Archetype of Christ, possibly a Nazarite (Numbers VI,1-21) of which we do not know nothing, but as to consider the Epistles of Mark, Luke, Mathew, and John, Historical documents of his existence, well, some may claim Homer Iliad History! Christ is not the only pseudo-historical figure with these associations. Krishna and Shiva in the Indian culture, and Quetzalcoatl/ Kukulkán/ Gukumatz, Viracocha, Pachankamaq in the Americas cultures have the same sort of power. Some aspects of the Buddha are approached for redemption and there are many Savior heroes from other cultures such as Anansi in Africa, Cúchulainn in Eire, Osiris in Egypt and Hercules in Greece. Apollonius of Tyana is also recorded as living a sacred life.
In the end this has nothing to do with taking Faith away from those who embrace Jesus as their Savior.I respect every Religion, and the many Men of those Religions with Faith in such, and who follow a great Man figure, and the good followers of any Religion, which is great in itself, however I respect more those who at least try, to embody the Mystery of Christ, Quetzacoatl, Buddha, or the Tao etc. within their Heart, and even more those who really do…
How do you bring people into harmony with the Tao?
You can only point at the invisible.
It is like using sign language in the dark.
The mystery is that it works.
Great post, Brigido. Thank you. 🙂
Pingback: From house to house #2: Continuing to bring the good news right to the world – Unmasking anti Jehovah sites and people