Craig Blomberg – How Historians Can Know Jesus of Nazareth

Question: Outside the New Testament, what documentary evidence do historians have for the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth? And what does this evidence tell us?

Craig Blomberg:

We have all kinds of evidence written by other Christians in the earliest decades of the second century, after the New Testament was complete. But, usually, somebody asking that kind of question is asking, ‘What kind of nonChristian evidence do we have, concerned that perhaps Christians were biased, and therefore, wanting to make sure that we can prove that Jesus existed, was something like what Jesus claimed He was from other ancient Jewish, Greek, Roman sources. There are about a dozen such references to Jesus. By far, the fullest one comes from a late first century Jewish historian named Josephus. But, we find early second century writers in the Roman world like Tacitus and Plutonius. We find references in the Encyclopedic size collection of Jewish traditions known as the Talmud, and elsewhere.

And, from them, we can corroborate that Jesus was a Jewish teacher, who lived in the first third of the first century, who had a ministry that intersected with that of a man named John, who baptized people, and hence got the name ‘John the Baptizer’, that He was born out of wedlock, that He had disciples, five of whom are named, who are particularly close followers. He regularly got in trouble with certain Jewish authorities of His time for radical views about the law. And that He finally was crucified. We know that from Tacitus. In the second century, under the governorship of Pontius Pilate, which narrows the time frame to from the mid 20’s to the mid 30’s of the first century. And that despite that ignominious death, his followers believed that they saw Him raised from the dead and believed that He was the Messiah, the Jewish liberator, beginning very quickly even to worship Him, as if He were a God, to use the language of Pliny, in the early second century. So, even without touching a Christian source, there’s quite a bit we can know about Jesus.

click to read book

click to read full essay (pdf)

Question: Now, some people would question the reliability of the Gospels, which for sure give a much fuller account of the life and ministry of Jesus. How would you respond to the suggestions that the writers of the Gospels embellished the account of Jesus’s life, turning a simple Jewish prophet into a kind of Gentile God? How would you respond to that concern? 

We have remarkably ancient testimony, remarkably close in time to the life of Jesus. Probably, the earliest written Gospel was Mark, most likely written in the ’60’s of the first century, with Jesus having died in about A.D. 30. A 30 year period may seem like a long span of time to us, but, in the ancient world, which was an oral culture, when people memorized and passed on faithfully, for generations, the beliefs and traditions and narratives of their families, tribes, nations, with high degrees of care and accuracy; one generation is a very short period of time. There were still plenty of eyewitnesses living in Israel who could remember the historical Jesus, what He was really like, many of whom had not become His followers.

The entire Christian claim could have been very easily debunked early on, if there had been widespread embellishment and misrepresentation of who Jesus was.

Question: Dr. Blomberg, in his book, the DaVinci Code, Dan Brown has called attention to the importance of the so called gnostic Gospels in early Christianity. Would you tell us something about these gnostic Gospels, and do you think they shed significant light on the historic Jesus of Nazareth?

I suppose, the first thing that needs to be said  for people who have never actually seen one of these documents is that they are not Gospels, in the sense of being narratives of a significant percentage of Jesus’s ministry, the way Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are. The vast majority of the so called Gnostic Gospels are supposed secret revelation, after Jesus’ resurrection to one or more disciples by Jesus and they tend to discourse on things utterly unlike the Jesus of the New Testament Gospels, reflecting on the origins of the Universe, the angelic hierarchies, why the world was created, how sin came to be, an abstract theological reflection, very different from what we read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There is one gnostic Gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, which also is not a consecutive narrative. It’s just 114 sayings, linked together and attributed to Jesus, that does have significant overlap with the Jesus of the New Testament. Maybe as many as a third of the sayings attributed to Jesus in this account remind readers of something that they would read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. But then, another large collection, maybe up to half of the sayings are quite different. There’s philosophical speculation that gnosticism was so known for. And then, tantalizingly, the remainder could be taken in orthodox Christian direction, could be taken into a gnostic direction. They’re short and cryptic enough that it’s hard to know for sure. But, does Thomas, or any of these other Gospels give us solid historical information that would change our understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth was? No, not at all.

Question: Do you find that many neighbors, friends that you interact with have had a skewed perspective on the early church because of books like Dan Brown’s? And, what would you wanna say to them specifically?

Yes, a surprising number of people, whether they picked it up from Brown, or from somebody else of his ilk, or by word of mouth, that garbled Brown, who garbled the ancient church. I would want to say is that what competed with orthodox Christianity in the early years was very different, was later than the New Testament documents  and was pretty easily dismissed. It did not become some lingering controversy that the so called lost gospels were not, for the most part, suppressed, as some claim. They simply fell out of use because they weren’t of value to the vast majority of early Christians. My friend Darrell Bock, who teaches at Dallas Seminary, likes to say, „It’s true that sometimes winners rewrite history. But, it’s also true that sometimes winners deserve to win.” And, all evidence points to the fact that apostolic orthodox Christianity was the dominant Christian tradition that had carefully preserved the life of Christ and its significance, and that’s what deserved to be passed on and be preserved.

Question: As we close, can you tell us in a nutshell, why we should believe in the historicity of Jesus, and what that means for us today?

We should believe in the historicity of Jesus because even if we’re skeptical of all Christian testimony, there is enough non-Christian testimony to corroborate His existence and the main contours of His life. But then, we shouldn’t be so skeptical about all Christian testimony, because much of it represented the testimony of people who were not born into Christian families, but who are adult converts convinced by the evidence, convinced by the transmission of the stories and accounts of Jesus, that He was so significant, they should become believers and followers in Him. You can’t just write all of that evidence off because somebody was convinced by it. And that significance continues to this day. In all the world religions, in all the traditions of the philosophers and teachers, nowhere else has someone made the claim  in actions and in labels that He applied to Himself and in explicit teachings, that He was somehow so close to God, that those out of his culture and religion, who believed in God, at times accused Him of blasphemy, executed Him, and yet, was reported to have been seen again bodily, by more than 500 of His followers, who then began an unbroken tradition of following Him, and at a very early date, even worshipping Him as that God. There’s no other religion or worldview that has that package of events. You have to come to grips with who Jesus of Nazareth was. And if you look at the evidence, it might just transform your life, for the good.

VIDEO by ChristonCampusCCI

Dr. Craig Blomberg discusses the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. (See his full essay at http://www.christoncampuscci.org/.) Dr. Blomberg responds to claims that the so-called „Gnostic gospels” are more reliable than the four Gospels of the Bible, showing that the historical evidence clearly suggests otherwise.

Dr. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, has also written a full essay on this topic, which lays out in a clear, organized fashion the evidence that supports the historicity of Jesus. That essay and several other free essays on relevant topics for college and university students are available online for free at http://www.christoncampuscci.org/.

This video and the corresponding essay are provided as a ministry of Christ on Campus Initiative, a nonprofit organization generously supported by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding (a ministry of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL), the Gospel Coalition, and the MAC Foundation (Fort Collins, CO).

Misty Edwards – I belong to the man from Nazareth

I belong to the man from Nazareth
He-s got wounds in His feet and scars in His hands
and He loves me with
an everlasting love

And I wouldn’t give anything
nothing withholding
I will search for you like silver and gold
and I’m gonna taste the glory of knowing you Lord

I belong to the King of Israel
He conquered death and holds the keys of heav’n
and he loves me with
an everlasting love

with all my heart, all my strength, all my soul
with all my heart, all my strength, all my soul

William Lane Craig on the Historical Jesus (Christian Apologetics for my atheist friends)

Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic

Image by jakebouma via Flickr

-As the recounting of Jesus’ birth takes place in many Christian homes I would like to offer this video as the rational reason why Christians believe in Christ. However, many Christians will tell you that their encounter with Christ on the day or week when they first realized that they are in need of a Savior and redemption from their unregenerate lifestyle, as good as we thought we were God opened up our eyes to understand that no matter how good we think we are, we truly are not for our hearts are desperately wicked and only through the power of Christ’s redemption can we hope to live a grace filled life to the glory of God.

But, I am very well aware that for someone who has not seen this redemptive change in their own personal life, they are in need of a more rational explanation as to why a Christian would believe in a historical Jesus who was born of a virgin, lived and taught and died and was risen from the dead and is the Savior of the world who reconciles us to God. This is a pretty long interview, but well worth listening to. You have nothing to lose by inquiring into the man called Jesus, but everything to gain if He opens up your eyes and gives you the gift of faith in order to be able to believe in Him. May he open up your eyes and your heart that you may feel His presence in your life this Christmas!

– An Interview done in 2001 as a response to ABC Anchor Peter Jennings’ special ‘The search of for Jesus’.

Uploaded by on Dec 13, 2011 http://reasonablefaith.org – John Ankerberg Show (2001) – John Ankerberg interviews philosopher, theologian, and historian Dr. William Lane Craig on the historical Jesus of Nazareth. This interview was a response to ABC’s Peter Jennings’ 2001 episode „The Search for Jesus.” (112 minutes) Originally from www.jashow.org

You can read many more articles and view videos and debates on my APOLOGETICS PAGE here.  Also read this interesting post about Philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who claims that Western science would not have happened without Christianity

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William Lane Craig on the Historical Jesus – In…, posted with vodpod

Does archaeology support the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke)? Part I

Excerpted from James M. Arlandson

Inerrantist Wayne Grudem writes:

… Our understanding of Scripture is never perfect, and this means that there may be cases where we will be unable to find a solution to a difficult passage at the present time. This may be because the linguistic, historical, or contextual evidence we need to understand the passage correctly is presently unknown to us.” (Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, p. 99)

He wrote those words in the context of supposed contradictions in the Bible. But they can apply to archaeology and history and the Bible. His humility about our imperfect understanding of Scripture is refreshing.

The Synoptics and Scripture as a whole have often been shown to be right in matters of history. In fact, that’s what’s so remarkable about Scripture. Its authorship spans about 1,500 years. They lived in different regions and cultures and flowing, changing history, so the chances of their being wrong are high. However, there are so many things Scripture gets right includeing even simple things like where Jerusalem is located or the village of Capernaum being located on the Sea of Galilee, or the name of the god Baal or of a ruler like Pontius Pilate or Nebuchadnezzar.

The historical facts and data outside of the Gospels go a long way to support their historical reliability, and here is an excerpt of a massive body of work done by James M. Arlandson (it is also featured at Bible.org) :

Archaeology and the Bible have an uneasy relationship. Many textual scholars have little use for archaeology. Discoveries happen often, so the data change, whereas the written text is stable, by comparison. Plus, the stones, so to speak, are sometimes difficult to interpret in relation to the text.

Nonetheless, let’s bring onto the web what archaeologists are saying in their books.  Though I’m far from being an archaeologist, I decided to include some findings that are more or less stable (but see some of the examples, below). For me, the Biblical text and its historical reliability have been demonstrated again and again, so I don’t put myself on an emotional rollercoaster of extreme highs and lows, depending on this or that discovery.

(Here the author suggests to open up two separate windows; one with this link of map of Israel and the second with map of Jerusalem).

1. So  how  does  archaeology  relate  to  the  Synoptic  Gospels?

Let’s begin with a sad example – sad, but true. Jesus grieved over his prediction (Matt. 23:37, Luke 13:34) destruction of Jerusalem

Luke 21:20 says, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near” (see Luke 19:42;Matt.24:15-20; Mark 13:14-19). Rome destroyed the temple and Jerusalem in AD 70. The suppression was led by Roman general Titus, son of the Emperor Vespasian (ruled 69-79), and Titus later ruled 79-81.

Closeup image from Arch of Titus- Menorrah and Temple goods being plundered.

The Arch of Titus stands at the highest point on the Via Sacra in Rome. The procession carved in marble shows the Roman General Titus returning victorious, having crushed the Jewish state, carrying the spoils of war stolen from the very Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

This wall relief on the Arch of Titus reveals one of the most troubling scenes in all history, Roman soldiers carrying spoils from the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Temple Menorah* and the Table** of the Shewbread shown at an angle, both of solid gold, and the silver trumpets which called the Jews to the festivals. The Romans are in triumphal procession wearing laurel crowns and the ones carrying the Menorah have pillows on their shoulders. The soldiers carry signs commemorating the victories which Titus had won. This group of soldiers is just a few of the hundreds in the actual triumphal procession down Rome’s Sacred Way. The whole procession is about to enter the carved arch on the right which reveals the quadriga at the top, Titus on his 4-horsed chariot with soldiers. The Arch of Titus with its Menorah Relief are high on the list of importance in the study of Biblical Archaeology because it stands today as a testimony that the words of Jesus miraculously came true.

Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44)

41And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying,  42 „Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

(2) Inscription about Pontius Pilate

He is mentioned in all four Gospels, particularly at the trial of Jesus, but the inscription is dealt with here because the synoptic Gospels mention him. He authorized Jesus’ execution. In the inscription at Caesarea Maritima, on the Mediterranean coast, he is referred to as the prefect of Judea, which is the southern region that encompassed Jerusalem.

Click picture to read about this inscription.

Until recently, there was no contemporary evidence outside the Bible for Pilate’s existence (although Tacitus, Josephus, and Philo all wrote about him). Then in 1961, Italian archaeologists excavating the theatre at Caesarea found this stone inscription of Pontius Pilate. Coins have also been found dating from Pilate’s rule as governor.

You can click for more on Pontius Pilate and if you click on the picture on the right you can read more on the inscription that was excavated.

(3) The boy Jesus in the temple

In Luke 2:41-50, he is in the temple dialoging with the rabbis. He impressed them with his wisdom. Where did this dialogue take place?

The discovery of a stairway south of the southern wall of the Temple Mount makes it clear that it was here that the young Jesus amazed the rabbis by his knowledge. A fragment of an inscription found on the stairway, along with another fragment … mentions the elders (zeqenim). Probably a place was allotted to them. The Talmud refers to three tribunals in Jerusalem. One of these „used to sit at the gate of the Temple Mount … engaged in deliberations and expounding” … . (Barhat, p. 307)

But the most interesting evidence says in the Talmud (t.Sanhedrin 2.6) that Rabban Gamaliel (probable teacher of Paul) and the elders were sitting on the stairway, along with a scribe. Then the tractate goes on to reference the people of upper Galilee and lower Galilee (Dan Barhat, p. 307).

(Here is a link to pictures of the simulated reconstruction of the temple, these pictures are very useful in shedding a light on the Gospel events that took place there, especially notice how big the Temple structure was. For more/bigger pictures on the Temple Mount you can visit the UCLA site and the Jerusalem Archaeological Park which has interactive maps and material on persons and events; this site is worth book marking and studying Biblical history at leisure)

(4) A winepress, stone-walled terraces, and three towers

In all four Gospels, Jesus is called “Jesus of Nazareth.” In the Parable of the

Tenants, he says that “a man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower” (Mark 12:1, Matt.21:33) but  Luke 20:9 omits most of the elements). Since the 1990s these textual data have been confirmed by archaeology “less than half a mile from the center of first-century Nazareth” to the west … . “A winepress has been exposed, and beautifully constructed stone-walled terraces are now visible. Most importantly, three circular stone towers only about fifty feet [about 16m] apart now rise majestically above the rocky terrain” (Charlesworth, “Jesus Research,” p. 38).

(5) The farmers in the Parable of the Tenants

In this parable (Matt. 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19), the landlord rents out his land to farmers. When he sends his servants to collect some of the produce or profits, the farmers beat them and eventually killed the landowner’s son.

So were the farmers peasants? From the larger contexts of rabbinic traditions, Greek papyri, a true-life story from Cicero himself (106-43 BC), and the Old Testament, it is clear that they were not necessarily poor peasants who were oppressed, so that they were in some sense justified in taking the land. Some of the evidence in the papyri parallels Jesus’ parable remarkably closely. A landowner leases his land to a farmer (the same Greek word both in the New Testament and the papyri). The landowner sends servants to collect the profits. The farmer assaults them and runs them out of the village (Evans, pp. 245-47). So instead of being dispossessed peasants, the farmers in the parable could be the powerful who were greedy for profit and the acquisition of more land. Thus, the farmers and their actions are consistent with the ruling priests in Jerusalem, according to Jesus’ assessment of them, as the end of the parable indicates.

Craig A. Evans, “Are the Wicked Tenant Farmers ‘Peasants’?” pp. 231-50.

read the rest of this article here .

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