Was Jesus of Nazareth a real historical figure?
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First round is for acceptance. I am glad that you wanted to debate this. You must cite your sources at the end of each argument by leaving a works cited either in your argument or in the comments. The Bible will not be used as historical evidence, however compelling it may be. Please maintain good ethics and conduct, and refrain from profanity or other insults. I am anxious to start this debate.
We have the Bible and other holy writ in which there is a reference to Jesus of Nazareth [The Qur’an, and the Book of Mormon, for example. The former, however, is not contemporary to Jesus, and the latter, while encompassing a history of 1,000 years, bridging the era of Jesus, was from another continent]. However, there appears to be no credentialed contemporary record of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. It is granted that while no current example of a contemporary history exists, it does not mean that such will not be found by future efforts.
Considering the Bible, the earliest text ever found was a scroll discovered at Ein Gedi, an ancient Jewish community near the Red Sea, found in 1970 and dated at roughly 2,000 years ago. However, this was a text of the Book of Leviticus, not a New Testament text, and indeed not the original Leviticus text.
There are two historians referenced in a search, Josephus, and Tacitus, but neither one of these men was a contemporary of Jesus. They were born in the first century, but both post-dated the alleged advent and death of the subject character, so the validity of either record is second-hand, at best.
Josephus was born in Jerusalem within the decade of the reference of the crucifixion of Jesus. He surely grew from childhood hearing stories of the exploits of Jesus, but this would have been no more credentialed material than, for example, my secondhand knowledge of my maternal grandparents, who both died before my birth.
Tacitus was a Roman, born approximately 20 years following the alleged crucifixion of Jesus. He was a historian and politician. In his young adulthood, he learned his trade in Rome, and, by then, Christianity was well into being a persecuted religion. Stories of Jesus were likely familiar to this literate young man. However, I would apply my grandparents’ notation above as a similar consequence to Tacitus.
The closest we come to “original” New Testament era scrolls date from the fourth century C.E., written in a Greek dialect known as koin𝛈[koine – or “common”], used by Christian communities at the time. These texts, themselves, refer to earlier texts in use by locals in the second century C.E. Even these referenced, but currently non-existing texts, post-date Josephus and Tacitus.
An example of the potential absurdity of substantiated records is an anecdotal experience. Josephus and Tacitus had no better confirmation.
An attorney/judge friend of mine once presided over a case I observed in court. I was not party to the litigation in any respect but as a spectator. With the Court’s approval, I was seated at the prosecutor’s table, as if an aide, though I never spoke and was never consulted. The case involved the fraudulent transfer of an amount of money alleged to have been the work of the defendant, to his benefit, in a gambling enterprise in Las Vegas. The prosecutor also happened to be a friend of my judge friend, though the former and I were not as well acquainted. When the defense presented their case, Defense counsel called his first witness, not a direct material witness, but a professional in the accounting business, serving in a capacity relative to the money aspect of this case. The defense offered the first question:
“Please give your name for the record.”
“Objection!” the prosecutor rose to shout. “Hearsay!”
“Sustained,” my judge friend proclaimed, to the frustration of the defense counsel.
“On what grounds?” Defense demanded.
The judge merely motioned to the prosecutor, intrigued by how his friend would reply.
“What is the evidence of his name?” the prosecutor charged.
“Why, his driver’s license should suffice.”
“No, that document is hearsay. How does defendant know of his knowledge that the name on his license is his?”
“Well, it’s the same name on his birth certificate. I can procure and present both documents for the Court.”
“All well and good,” the prosecutor replied, “but what assures the Court that this is his name?”
“Why, his parents told him so.”
“Hearsay,” repeated the prosecutor.
“Sustained,” my friend the judge, declared with finality.
I said it was an absurd logic, but such is the burden of proof on my opponent without contemporary, non-Biblical accounting of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.
The importance, indeed the necessity of a contemporary [to Jesus] record of the man from Nazareth cannot be overstated. Any other record post-dating the life of the man must be suspect as secondhand, at best. If/when such a document is finally found, and substantiated as historically accurate and contemporary, then the above is withdrawn as passé. Until then, the charge stands as unfulfilled.
Cited references are in the comment section.
One might approach the question of an historic Jesus of Nazareth from the perspective that, even by just biblical reference, he could be construed as more than one person, and perhaps not an historic figure at all, but an icon, albeit fictitious. Something like Superman occupies our modern conscience.
Let me explain the Superman reference.Superman, a fictitious character was and is a capture of imagination of generations of Americans, at least, and represents, similar to Jesus, a character who seems to transcend the neighborhood as not being a product of it. I am not arguing that Jesus and Superman ought to relate in some cosmic sense; I am drawing a comparison merely by argument. Perhaps, on the other hand, I am a liar. This is unique superhero lore in that Superman is the real deal; it is Clark Kent who is the disguise. In a similar manner, Jesus is presented, first, as a wunderkind, heralded as a king when still an infant, whose fame is somehow suppressed in childhood such that we have virtually no childhood description beyond the miraculous birth, by a virgin, no less, except for the little family’s flight into Egypt, and then, as a profound twelve-year-old who converses the scriptures with the elders in the Temple in Jerusalem.
We lose track until suddenly he emerges in the wilderness with his adversary, Satan, who offers three temptations, the whole of which cover the essential three elements from which all sins rise: power, pride, and possession. Yet, with no apparent background to give him the skills of counterpunch, he confounds Satan in each temptation.
Suddenly, he emerges again at the shore of the Jordan River to meet John the Baptist, his cousin, to be baptized by the latter. John protests; it is he, rather, he tells Jesus, that he, John, must be baptized by Jesus! From John’s view, Jesus is sinless, needing no baptism. Jesus demurs, says that John’s task in baptizing Jesus is “…to fulfill all righteousness.”John complies, and thus Jesus’ ministry is launched.
This is precisely the baptism of fire experienced by Clark Kent as he assumes his new role as Superman. Forever after, the small man from Smallville is Superman, citizen and, in a secular sense, savior and champion of the world. However, as iconic as Superman is, his morphology is limited to either Superman, or the disguise, Clark Kent.
There are many story themes like this of a myriad of examples. That the Holy Bible should include the theme in its pages is, at least, literary assumption of license. Santa Claus, who, coincidentally, is a Christmas icon like Jesus, is a fictitious character who takes many years of childhood to grow beyond, and relegate to a good story, but is not real. This is Superman, as well. Good story. Not real. Jesus? Good story, but no contemporary historic evidence, either.
The Holy Bible, though full of great ideas for exemplary living, and great ideas for illicit living, appears to be another literary masterpiece of a great epic story of a vast stage to present likeable and unlikeable characters. As literature, it succeeds, partly because we have in it a character who is transcendent is his morphology from a simple carpenter, to a good/evil scholar, to a messenger like Nietzsche’s Madmanwho rises one bright morning with a lighted lantern, and goes into the streets proclaiming, “I seek God!”He works miracles, and teaches incessantly. Then he morphs into a silent apologist, who, when Pilate inquires, “Whence art thou?” answers not a word.The next morph is whipped, beaten, hung on a cross with Pilate’s cruel joke of a coronation with thorns: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” He dies, and fulfills the final morph as a risen God. Osiris offers a similar story in the Pyramid Texts of Ancient Egypt.
It s entirely possible with so many morphs, we are looking at multiple characters in an epic, bestseller yarn. It did, after all, take a few centuries to put the first scrolls into reader’s hands, so engrossing, challenging, and tragic was the story. And, it is an unmatched best-seller.
Unfortunately, my opponent has forfeited this debate, offering no arguments beyond the first round, which was effectively waived without offering any first round argument., Therefore, I delcare victory in the debate, simply based on my first round arguments for the fact that, beyond biblical text, there is no contemporary history of Jesus of Nazareth; only the histories of non-contemporaries as noted in round one.