Did Jesus Exit? – Part 4

When Bart Ehrman asserts that “Jesus existed”, he is asserting something like the following Minimal Jesus Hypothesis (MJH):


There was a flesh-and-blood person who was…

1. named ‘Jesus’, and

2. a Jewish man, and

3. living in Palestine as an adult in the 20s C.E., and

4. known to be a preacher and a teacher, and

5. crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans around 30 C.E., and

6. crucified when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea.


There was a flesh-and-blood person

Ehrman does not specify that Jesus was a “flesh-and-blood person”, but I think that is what he has in mind when he asserts that “Jesus existed.” For one thing, a literal crucifixion of Jesus does not fit well with the idea of Jesus being a spirit.

Many Christians believe in the existence of angels and demons. Most Christians believe in the existence of souls. Virtually all Christians believe that God exists, and that God is a ‘spirit’, meaning that God is a person who does NOT have a body. Since Christians believe in the existence of persons who do not have bodies, it is theoretically possible, given such a metaphysical viewpoint, that “Jesus existed” but that “Jesus did NOT have a body” and thus that “Jesus was NOT a flesh-and-blood person”.

Given Christian metaphysics, it is theoretically possible that Jesus was an angel or a spirit who existed but had no physical body. Therefore, when a defender of the historicity of Jesus claims that “Jesus existed” this is a somewhat ambiguous claim. I think that most defenders of the historicity of Jesus have in mind the claim that there was a flesh-and-blood Jesus; they don’t have in mind the claim that there was an angel or spirit named ‘Jesus’ who appeared in Palestine in the past. So, if what is intended by Ehrman is the claim that there was a Jesus with a physical body, then that belief needs to be made clear and explicit.

This point is also important to me, because I’m intested in the logical relationship between the claim that “Jesus existed” and the claim “Jesus rose from the dead”. If “Jesus existed” (or “Jesus was an historical person”) implies that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person, then this claim is directly relevant to the the claim “Jesus rose from the dead”, at least if the resurrection claim is taken to be asserting a literal, physical resurrection.

In order for Jesus to literally rise from the dead, he must first literally die. And literal death requires that Jesus have a physical body, that Jesus be a flesh-and-blood person. So, because I’m interested in the resurrection claim, understood as asserting a literal, physical resurrection, I’m interested in the claim “Jesus existed” because this claim, understood as implying that Jesus was a ‘flesh-and-blood person’, is a necessary condition for the claim “Jesus rose from the dead”.

If, on the other hand, one interprets “Jesus existed” as including the possibility that Jesus was merely an angel or a spirit who never occupied a physical body, then the claim “Jesus existed” would NOT entail that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person who could die on a cross. If Jesus was merely a spirit and he never had a physical body, then “Jesus rose from the dead” would be a false claim, assuming that this claim is understood to refer to a literal, physical resurrection.

My interest in the resurrection issue influences my preferences here. So, I’m in favor of adding the qualification “flesh-and-blood person” not only because this is what I think Ehrman and other defenders of the historicity of Jesus have in mind, but also because this makes the claim “Jesus existed” of greater significance in relation to the claim “Jesus rose from the dead.”

1. named ‘Jesus’

Strictly speaking, Jesus was not named “Jesus” by his parents, nor was he called “Jesus” by his disciples. “Jesus” is an English word, and since the English language did not exist 2,000 years ago (Prehistoric Old English dates back to the 5th century C.E.), it is highly unlikely that Jesus’ parents used an English word as the name of their son!

The word “Jesus” derives from the Latin name Iesus. Latin is an older language than English, but Jesus probably did not speak Latin, nor his parents, nor his disciples. So, Jesus was not called Iesus by his parents or disciples.

The Latin name Iesus derives from the Greek name Iēsous (in Greek letters: Ἰησοῦς), the name used of Jesus in the Greek New Testament. Although it is possible that Jesus’ parents and some of his disciples could speak some Greek, they probably talked to each other in Aramaic not Greek, and thus whatever name Jesus was given, was presumably a name in Aramaic, not Greek.

The Greek name Iēsous (in Greek letters: Ἰησοῦς) is usually translated as “Jesus” in the Gospels, but the same Greek name is translated elsewhere in the NT as “Joshua” (Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8), and is translated “Joshua” in Luke 3:29.

Furthermore, the Greek translation of the OT (called the Septuagint) uses the Greek name Iēsous ( Ἰησοῦς) to translate the Hebrew name Yĕhôshúa‘ (in Hebrew: יְהוֹשֻׁעַ). In English versions of the OT the Hebrew name Yĕhôshúa‘ (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) is translated as “Joshua”. Thus, the Greek name Iēsous is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Yĕhôshúa‘ (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ).

But Jesus and his parents and his disciples probably did not speak Hebrew either. They probably only or primarily spoke Aramaic.

The Aramaic version of this Hebrew name is: Yeshu’a (יֵשׁוּעַ). Presumably, if Jesus was an actual historical person, the actual name that Mary and Joseph gave to their son was: Yeshu’a (יֵשׁוּעַ).

To be continued…