I am examining the implications of the following supposition:
JAW = Jesus was alive and walking around on the first Easter Sunday.
This supposition is asserted by most Christian apologists as a key claim in support of the resurrection of Jesus. Another key claim made by Christian apologists concerns the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
JWC = Jesus was crucified on Friday of Passover week, just before the first Easter Sunday.
All four Gospels agree that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem on Friday of Passover week by order of Pontius Pilate (Mark 14:12-15:47, Luke 22:7-23:56, Matthew 26:17-27:62, John 13:1-13:30 and 18:1-19:42).
Since none of the Gospels was composed by an eyewitness to the trial, crucifixion, or burial of Jesus, and since the Gospels were apparently not based directly on eyewitness testimony, but were based on oral and written traditions of unknown origins (unknown to us), and since the Gospels were composed about four to six decades after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, and since the primary motivation of the authors was to promote Christian faith (which includes the belief that Jesus was crucified), we cannot be certain that (JWC) is true. At best, we can conclude that it is very probable that (JWC) is true.
Perhaps Jesus was crucified, but not on Friday of Passover week, or perhaps Jesus was killed on Friday of Passover week, but was not killed by being crucified (e.g. he died as a result of scourging and so was not hung up on a cross), or perhaps Jesus was not killed on Friday of Passover week because he was never crucified – the crucifixion being a legend or a mistaken inference of Jesus’s original followers.
Nevertheless, since we have no evidence of any alternative to the crucifixion story found in all four Gospels, the most likely scenario is that (JWC) is true. I think it is reasonable to assign (JWC) a probabilty of .9 (nine chances in ten of being true, given that Jesus was an historical person–which follows from the supposition of (JAW) ), and thus the probability of (Not JWC) would be .1 (one chance in ten that one of the other alternatives is true).
In proposing a probability of .9 for the truth of (JWC), I am taking into account not just the NT evidence, but also the non-Christian historical evidence (see The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, p.49) from Josephus (Antiquities 18:63), Tacitus (Annals 15:44), Lucian of Samosata, (The Death of Peregrine, 11-13), and the letter of Mara Bar-Serapion.
Antiquities by JosephusJosephus does not claim to have witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus, nor does he claim to have interviewed any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion of Jesus. We simply don’t know what his source was for this information, but it was probably third- or fourth-hand hearsay:
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] Christ. 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 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 day. (Flavius Josephus. The Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by. William Whiston, A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. 1895. Antiquities 18:63)
Josephus completed Antiquities in the early 90s, about six decades after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, and it was composed in Rome, not in Palestine. Since the Gospel of Mark was composed about 70 CE, and Matthew and Luke were composed in the 80s CE, the synoptic Gospels were already in circulation among Christians before Josephus composed Antiquities, so he may simply be echoing stories about Jesus that circulated among Christian believers in Rome.
Furthermore, scholars have concluded that the text of the passage from Josephus was altered by Christian copyists, so it is uncertain exactly what the passage said about Jesus in the original version written by Josephus, although it is likely that Josephus mentioned the crucifixion of Jesus in the original version (see The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas, p.192-196).
Finally, Josephus does not specify the time and place of the crucifixion.
Annals by TacitusTacitus does not claim to have witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus, and since he was born in 56 CE and the alleged crucifixion would have happened about 30 CE (if it did happen), Tacitus could not have been an eyewintess. Nor does he claim to have interviewed any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion of Jesus (and given the date of composition of Annals, it is very unlikely that he would have had access to any eyewintesses–people rarely lived to 60 years old, let alone 100 years old). We simply don’t know what his source was for this information.
Tacitus composed his Annals in about 115 CE., about eight decades after the alleged crucifixion, and almost five decades after the composition of the Gospel of Mark. Tacitus writes about the presence of Christian believers in Rome, so it is entirely possible that his information comes from Christians or from Romans who were familiar with Christian beliefs.
Furthermore, Tacitus gets two things wrong is his one sentence about Jesus:
But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, 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 Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. (Complete Works of Tacitus. Tacitus. Alfred John Church. William Jackson Brodribb. Sara Bryant. edited for Perseus. New York. : Random House, Inc. Random House, Inc. reprinted 1942. Annals 15:44)
Jesus’s name was not ‘Christus’. The word ‘Christ’ is a title– meaning ‘Messiah’ – which was bestowed upon Jesus by his followers. Also, Pilate was a prefect
not a procurator (Jesus, The Final Days by Craig Evans and N.T. Wright, p.3-4). Also, Tacitus does not say that Jesus was crucified, nor does he give a specific time and place for the execution of Jesus, although he does suggest ‘Judea’ as the general location.
The Death of Peregrine by Lucian of SamosataThis passage is from a speech about the life and death of a Cynic philosopher Peregrinus Proteus made by an unnamed person/character:
“It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world. (The Passing of Peregrinus, 11, by Lucian of Samosata. Translated and notes by A.M. Harmon, 1936, Published in Loeb Classical Library, 9 volumes, Greek texts and facing English translation: Harvard University Press.)
Since Peregrinus committed suicide at the Olympic Games in 165 CE, this satire written by Lucian must have been composed between 165 CE and the death of Lucian (sometime after 180 CE). Suppose this satire was written about 170 CE, in that case this passage was composed about fourteen decades after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus. Since Lucian was born around 125 CE, he obviously could not have been an eyewitness to the crucifixion of Jesus.
By the time Lucian was 10 years old, the year was about 135 CE, so any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion of Jesus would have been dead by then. Thus, Lucian never interviewed an eyewitness of the crucifixion. Nor does Lucian provide any indication of where he got this information, other than that he heard it in a speech about Peregrinus (but the speech may well be purely a rhetorical device, and not an actual speech given by an actual person).
By the time that this satire was composed (around 170 CE), the synoptic gospels had been in circulation for about one century. So, it is entirely possible that this speech in a satire about the philosopher Peregrinus simply draws on the widely held Christian belief that Jesus had been crucified.
Furthermore, the speech does not specify the time and place of the crucifixion of Jesus, other than giving the general location of ‘Palestine’.
A letter by Mara Bar-SerapionA Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion wrote a letter from prison to his son “sometime between the late first and third centuries A.D.” (The Historical Jesus, p. 207):
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 burning 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…the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. (Christian Origins by F.F. Bruce, p. 31, quoted in The Historical Jesus, p.207-208).
Since this letter might date to the second or third century CE, it might well have been composed one or two centuries after the alleged crucifixion, in which case the author could not have been an eyewitness and could not have interviewed an eyewitness of the crucifixion.
The author does not claim to be an eyewitness to the crucifixion, nor to have spoken to an eyewitness of the crucifixion. Nor does the writer indicate how or where he obtained this information. Once again, this might well be third- or fourth-hand hearsay, even if the letter was written at the end of the first century.
There are other problems with this passage. First, Jesus was not a King, and the writer does not name ‘Jesus’ or mention ‘Christ’ or ‘Christians’, nor is there any specification of the time and place of the execution of the ‘wise King’. Thus, it is unclear whether it is really Jesus of Nazareth that is in view here.
Furthermore, there is no mention of crucifixion, only execution.
Finally, the writer is wrong about the death of Pythagorus and other facts: “…some of Mara Bar-Serapion’s material concerning Athens and Samos is quite inaccurate.” (The Historical Jesus, p. 208). So, the writer of the letter is not a reliable source of historical information.
This letter may well date one or two centuries after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, makes a vague claim about the execution, not crucifixion, of a ‘wise King’ of the Jews, which may or may not be a reference to Jesus of Nazareth, occurring at an unspecified time and place, along with other historical claims about major figures which are innacurate. This is pathetic as historical evidence for (JWC).
To be continued…
INDEX of Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus posts: