Twenty Facts about Jesus

Twenty Facts about Jesus August 26, 2013

Doug Chaplin has a post in which he mentions my attempt to engage mythicists. He writes:

Of course, in any topic under the sun, but especially those to do with Jesus, even almost indisputable facts get disputed, even down to his actual existence. The latter seems to be giving a few North American writers a little frisson of naughtiness and an illusion of intellectual courage in their frequently fundamentalist culture. Some scholars – such as James McGrath – do their best to take mythicists seriously enough to refute them. This side of the Atlantic academia hardly notices them.

The main content of his post is a list of twenty facts about Jesus, explicitly based on E. P. Sanders’ famous lists of things that we can have historical confidence about. I am reproducing Doug’s list below. Would you agree with his confidence about our historical knowledge regarding all, some, or none of them, and why?

  1. A man called Jesus existed who people thought was worth remembering
  2. He came from Nazareth
  3. He spoke Aramaic as his first language.
  4. He was washed in the Jordan by John the Immerser as part of John’s restoration movement.
  5. He developed a ministry independent of John’s (which was probably part-based around Capernaum and part-itinerant).
  6. His travels and planned action and teaching were confined to Israel although may have included areas whose “Israeliteness” was disputed.
  7. He ate, drank and spoke about God with those whose community status and purity was disputed or denied.
  8. He called disciples and spent time teaching them.
  9. Among these disciples he spoke of and to a core group of twelve.
  10. He prioritised the fictive kin relationships of his followers over their natural family relationships
  11. He performed exorcisms and other perceived healings
  12. He was also widely seen as a teacher, and a significant portion of his teaching was seen as indirect, riddling and opaque.
  13. One of his key subjects was the kingdom of God / heaven.
  14. He referred to himself using the idiom “son of man” (although how and why he did so is disputed)
  15. One characteristic way he expressed authority in his teaching was by prefacing some statements with “Amen.”
  16. He engaged in controversies over the interpretation of the law
  17. One of his final controversies was something to do with the Temple
  18. He was executed by the Roman authorities as a royal pretender
  19. His followers after his execution claimed he had been vindicated by God as God’s true king
  20. A new Jewish movement in his name opened up Judaism to include Gentiles and came into conflict with other Jews over Jewish identity, theology and practice.

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