Did Jesus Exit? – Part 11
I will now take a brief break from answering the 44 questions about Mark, Q, M, and L.
For your reading enjoyment, I bring you John Crossan’s brief defense of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus:
Jesus’ death by execution under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For, if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavious Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus…. We have, in other words, not just Christian witnesses but one major Jewish and one major pagan historian who both agree on three points concerning Jesus: there was a movement, there was an execution because of that movement, but, despite that exectution, there was a continuation of the movement.
(Who Killed Jesus?, p.5)
According to Crossan, the execution of Jesus was an actual historical event, and we can know this with a great deal of confidence, because of the corroboration of two ancient non-Christian sources concerning the execution: Josephus and Tacitus.
I think Crossan needs to read Bart Ehrman’s defense of the existence of Jesus in Did Jesus Exist?, because it might lead Crossan to reduce his confidence in the historicity of “Jesus’ death by execution under Pontius Pilate”:
As a result, even though both the mythicists and their opponents like to fight long and hard over the Testimonium of Josephus, in fact it is only marginally relevant to the question of whether Jesus existed. (DJE, p.66)
The Testimonium is a key passage in Josephus work Antiquities that mentions Jesus and says that Pilate condemned Jesus to the cross.
Ehrman explains why he does not think the Testimonium evidence carries much weight:
Suppose Josephus really did write the Testimonium. That would show that by 93 CE–some sixty or more years after the traditional date of Jesus’ death–a Jewish historian of Palestine had some information about him. And where would Josephus have derived this information? He would have heard stories about Jesus that were in circulation. There is nothing to suggest that Josephus had actually read the Gospels (he almost certainly had not) or that he did any kind of primary research into the life of Jesus by examining Roman records of some kind (there weren’t any). But as we will see later, we already know for lots of other reasons and on lots of other grounds that there were stories about Jesus floating around in Palestine by the end of the first century and much earlier. So even if the Testimonium, in the pared-down form, was written by Josephus, it does not give us much more evidence than we already have on the question of whether there really was a man Jesus.
If we cannot rely upon the Josephus passages to provide significant evidence for the existence of Jesus, then we also cannot rely upon those passages to provide significant evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Ehrman also is unimpressed by the evidence for Jesus in the writings of Tacitus:
…the information is not particularly helpful in establishing that there really lived a man named Jesus. How would Tacitus know what he knew? It is pretty obvious that he had heard of Jesus, but he was writing some eighty-five years after Jesus would have died, and by that time Christians were certainly telling stories of Jesus (the Gospels had been written already, for example), whether the mythicists are wrong or right. It should be clear in any event that Tacitus is basing his comment about Jesus on hearsay rather than, say, detailed historical research. Had he done serious research, one might have expected him to say more, if even just a bit. But even more to the point, brief though his comment is, Tacitus is precisely wrong in one thing he says. He calls Pilate the “procurator” of Judea. We now know from the inscription discovered in 1961 in Caesarea that as governor, Pilate had the title and rank, not of procurator (one who dealt principally with revenue collection), but of prefect (one who also had military forces at his command). This must show that Tacitus did not look up any official record of what happened to Jesus, written at the time of his execution (if in fact such a record ever existed, which is highly doubtful). He therefore heard the information. Whether he heard it from Christians or someone else is anyone’s guess.
It would be rather ironic if Crossan were to read Ehrman’s case for the existence of Jesus, and as a result begin having some serious doubts about the existence of Jesus.