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.
(DJE, p.65)

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.
(DJE, p.55-56)

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.

  • MNb

    It’s always amusing when a self-declared skeptic – in this case Ehrman – fails to apply his own skepticism to his own methods and statements.

    “And where would Josephus have derived this information?”

    If Ehrman would apply this to Socrates and Diogenes of Sinope he would have to declare them mythical. Sure, Plato was an eyewitness – or so he claims – but it can be conclusively shown that he made up at least parts of his account. So Ehrman nicely falls in the trap of the ad hoc argument.
    The problem with Josephus is not that he got his information from local christians. The problem is that the relevant quotes have been rewritten numerous times.
    With Tacitus at the other hand it can be shown that he derived his information indirectly from the Gospels, which means that he is not independent.
    As for your 44 questions, they avoid the trap indeed. You must take into account though that the conclusion not necessarily has to be black or white. We know for sure that many myths have been attached to the character of Jesus. It might very well be the case that he was a kind of religious teacher indeed, but that several of his teachings and core features have been attributed to him somewhat later. Then your conclusion will be ambiguous. There is nothing wrong with that of course.

    • MNb

      Forgot to add: regarding Ehrman’s method the example of Diogenes is even clearer. There is no eyewitness of his life at all.

    • Bradley Bowen

      MNb said…

      As for your 44 questions, they avoid the trap indeed. You must take into account though that the conclusion not necessarily has to be black or white. We know for sure that many myths have been attached to the character of Jesus. It might very well be the case that he was a kind of religious teacher indeed, but that several of his teachings and core features have been attributed to him somewhat later. Then your conclusion will be ambiguous.

      ====================

      Response:

      I agree.

      It is my expectation that answering the 44 questions will NOT settle the issue decisively one way or the other, but will probably raise some significant doubt about Ehrman’s Seven Gospels Argument and about MJH.

      If the data turns out to line up with my expectations, then a low or moderate probability estimate for the existence of Jesus can be justified in view of the weaknesses in Ehrman’s arguments and the ambiguity of the evidence.

      However, SGA is not his only argument, so further analysis and evaluation will be required to get to a conclusion.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      The problem with Josephus is not that he got his information from local
      christians. The problem is that the relevant quotes have been rewritten
      numerous times.

      There is more than one problem, with the basic chronology being another. Something written ~ 95 CE just cannot constitute solid evidence for something that happened about 60 years earlier.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Herod the Procurator

    by Richard Carrier
    In actual fact, Pilate was both a prefect and a procurator. An imperial procurator, to be precise…

    • Bradley Bowen

      Thank you for the link to Richard Carrier’s post about Pilate being a procurator.

      The post is a long one, so here are a couple of relevant paragraphs from it:

      So Was Pontius Pilate a Prefect or a Procurator?

      A prominent defender of the thesis that Jesus is a mythical person (more now in the agnostic camp, but still) is G.A. Wells. And one argument he made, against the authenticity of a passage attesting to the existence of Jesus in the Roman historian Tacitus (writing around 117 A.D.), is that Tacitus there calls Pilate a “procurator” when in fact we know, from logic (given the above) and an actual stone inscription cut at Pilate’s own direction, that Pilate was a prefect, not a procurator, which isn’t even a government office. “Surely” Tacitus would not make that mistake (so the passage is a forgery) or “surely” Tacitus would not make that mistake if he was working from government documents (so he must be relying on an unreliable source, like a Gospel-reading Christian informant). Therefore the information is bogus. Therefore (given various other conclusions) Jesus didn’t exist. Now, like many an unsound argument, the primary conclusion is true (Tacitus is almost certainly relying on a Gospel-reading Christian informant, and not any kind of government records), but the argument for it is not.

      Tacitus almost certainly got this information from his good friend Pliny the Younger, who would have gotten it from his strong-arm interrogation of a Christian deaconess in 110 A.D. (when Tacitus and Pliny were governing adjacent provinces in what is now Turkey, and carrying on a regular correspondence in which Tacitus evinces asking Pliny for information to include in the history books he was then writing). And she would certainly have gotten the information from the Gospels, many of which were
      being read in the churches of the time. So yes, Tacitus is in fact giving us
      useless evidence, since it is not independent of the Gospels (that’s why his account contains nothing not in them, yet that would have been in an official government record, like Jesus’ full name and crime). But Wells’ argument to that same conclusion is incorrect, due to another oddity about the ancient Roman system that non-experts don’t know about (and that even many experts don’t know about, not having specifically studied the matter of imperial administration and economics).

      In actual fact, Pilate was both a prefect and a procurator. An imperial procurator, to be precise. In fact this was true of all the prefects of Judea, and many other regional prefects, such as the prefect of Egypt who governed that whole province directly for the emperor…

  • busterggi

    There are accounts of George Armstrong Custer, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickock, Billy the Kid, Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and many other well atested to historical figures having met & interacted with the Lone Ranger.

    But that doesn’t make me believe he was real.

  • Bradley Bowen

    I moved my comments about M and the attribute claim that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood person over to the comments on Part 10.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X