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NEW: my work against the mythicist case
NEW: "historical Jesus", in a few words
Note: my definition for 'historical' in "historical Jesus" is 'having lived in the past', based on the Collins English Dictionary (Canadian Edition), "belonging to past", and with 'Jesus' being the name of the man credited to have started Christianity.
Who was the historical Jesus?
On one side, his earthly existence is denied by some. On the other is the incarnated "historic" Word of the ecclesiastic establishment. And then we have the scholarly renditions of the "historical Jesus", the charismatic founder of a movement or sect, as a sage, revolutionary, healer, magician, myth maker, prophet, one "in the Spirit", etc.
This website is not about any one of these perceptions. Instead, it follows a different path altogether:
Like the vast majority of the people of his generation, could this Jesus have existed as just a mere man swayed by the ideas of his days?
With the social, religious & political situation of the times affecting the last part of his life & circumstances of his death?
And, unintentionally, triggering the development by others of a major faith, Christianity?
By a simple act (remaining seated in a bus, then arrested and jailed), did not Rosa Parks, a humble seamstress then, provide the spark for the momentous Civil Rights Movement? Later, she was considered its "Mother" and revered as an icon.
Do we have items of evidence supporting this?
As a matter of fact we do, in a surprisingly large quantity, and many of them are found in the gospels. But then, can the gospels, criticized as unreliable, be used in the quest of the real Jesus?
For a long time, the Homeric 'Iliad' was
considered a most unreliable collection of
legendary tales. Then came Schliemann. Believing
the ancient book was partly factual, he made
many related archaeological discoveries.
Whenever a narrative is susceptible to be considered (and for good cause) as "unreliably" embellished and laced with extraordinary feats, then-known genuine matter-of-fact data can be inserted in order to instill some credibility.
In the gospels (and some other N.T. writings), we have "down to earth", anecdotal and "against the grain" bits & pieces. They are without any suspicious & "unreliable" features and make a lot of sense on a human, social, cultural & historical standpoint. But how can we be sure of their truthfulness? Could these insertions be outright inventions?
But if it is the case:
- Why give Jesus four brothers and at least two sisters (Mk6:3), rather than emphasize his uniqueness?
- Why start his public life right after the arrest of John the Baptist, who attracted a much larger audience: "The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him [John]" (Mk1:5a)?
- Why have Jesus declare "among those born of women there is no one greater than John [the Baptist]" (Lk7:28a/Mt11:11a)?
- Why base him among the uneducated villagers of Capernaum, his new home (Mt4:13), a poor town in Galilee?
- Why bother to have him get a "mother-in-law" (Mk1:30) out of bed?
- Why give him a few "unschooled" fishermen (Mk1:16-20, Ac4:13) as his main followers?
- Why have him say: "you are worth more than many sparrows" (Lk12:7/Mt10:31)?
- Why tell of his family wanting "to take charge of him" and saying: "he is out of his mind" (Mk3:21)?
- Why should the disciples be "questioning what the rising from the dead meant" (Mk9:10), after they supposedly saw an alive Moses?
- Why would the alleged resurrection of Jairus' daughter be kept secret: "But He commanded them [disciples & parents] strictly that no one should know it" (Mk5:42b-43a) and the disciples (suspiciously!) be "strictly warned ... that they should tell no one about Him [as being the Christ!]" (Mk8:30)?
- Why write "Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John [the Baptist], whether he was the Christ or not" (Lk3:15)?
- Why relate, after John's execution, ""Who do people say that I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah"" (Mk8:27b-28a), when Christ is set far above John (and John himself as Elijah: Mk9:12-13)?
- Why have Jesus disowned by his companions and crucified as "king of the Jews" (Mk15:26) for the benefit of Gentile Christians?
- Why would the most reliable early manuscripts of Mark's gospel end as such: "... And they [the women who allegedly witnessed the empty tomb] said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." (Mk16:8), and with no reappearance?
Many of these points, and a lot of other
ones, were certainly not meant to support
Jesus as the Son of God, Lord or Christ (Anointed
One). And some of them were troublesome for
the early Christian writers/preachers, as
1Co1:23 YLT "... Christ crucified, to Jews, indeed, a stumbling-block, and to Greeks foolishness;"
Gal5:11 "... the offense of the cross ..."
2Co13:4 "... He was crucified in weakness ..."
However, these many overlooked pieces of data shed a lot of light on the real Jesus and many of them tend to represent him as just a man in the context of his times, as I postulated earlier. Furthermore, and somewhat unexpected, the resulting overall picture of this "Jesus" fits too well together to be easily dismissed, as I will show later on.
But if Jesus was a mere man, is there somewhere
an account of him which is realistic,
comprehensible and COHERENT? And includes all of the least controversial
and most substantiated pieces of evidence?
And within the historical background of his
I could not find it.
Then, after three years of research on the history of (very) early Christianity and with no predetermined agenda, I decided to write this reconstruction about the historical Jesus and the sequence of events ('historical thread') leading to the earliest Christian doctrine. It is a sincere conclusion of a personal exercise motivated by my curiosity and not any anti-Christian propaganda or apologetic effort.
My approach, as an investigative and critical historian, will appear radically new. The research was not based on studying extensively scholarly works; but instead by inquiring about contextual facts, scrutinizing primary sources, getting free from past indoctrinations and, above all, doing a lot of thinking. Never interested in learned opinions, lofty intellectualism, slick or bullying rhetoric, agenda-driven "studies" or ill-validated theories (click here for the newest of those!), I strived to discover the bottom of things, the facts and the bare truth, as naive as it may sound.
"Hypotheses are established as valid when they are able to account for the bulk of the evidence."
With its many components backed up by series of attestations & short arguments, this reconstruction is thoroughly documented. Furthermore,
- Contrary pieces of evidence & interpretations are flagged and addressed (which is usually not done in scholarly works!).
- Great care is taken about the dating, authorship & later alterations of crucial early Christian texts.
- Loose ends and miscellaneous critical issues are examined in the appendices.
I think you will find this work, as a whole, to be solidly stand-alone and fully coherent, despite covering a lot of ground before & after the crucifixion and handling a huge amount of multi-sourced evidence! No other "historical Jesus" inquiry goes as far!
Some elements have already been reported by others. But you will be astonished, just as I was, when stumbling upon the unexpected!
The reconstruction will show, among other things, that Jesus of Nazareth existed as a simple man, with the events of his life and death not only fitting his times, but also, and unintentionally, providing the starting point for the development of Christianity.
A far-fetched supposition? Too big of a challenge?
Not at all: surprisingly, the numerous pieces fit easily into place, like the ones of a jigsaw puzzle, with no need for delicate argumentations, dubious interpretations and long discussions (the simplest explanation is usually the valid one).
When eyewitnesses were still alive, Paul
heard and wrote about Jesus (pre-existent for Paul) who, from "Israelites, ... whose [are] the fathers,
and of whom [is] the Christ, according to
the flesh ..." (Ro9:4-5 YLT) and "the seed of [allegedly] David, according to the flesh" (Ro1:3), "come of a woman, come under law" (Gal4:4 YLT), "found in appearance as a man" (Php2:8) "in the likeness of sinful flesh"
(Ro8:3) who "humbled himself" (Php2:8) in "poverty" (2Co8:9) as "servant of the Jews" (Ro15:8) and "was crucified in weakness" (2Co13:4) out of "Zion" (Ro9:31-33 & Ro15:26-27; explanations
on this page).
And the same picture can also be seen at the bottom of the earliest gospels, especially the first one, Mark's.
The early Christians did not seem to consider the earthly Jesus as (theologically) sacred:
"Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man [Jesus] will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven" (Mt12:32a)
His historic presence appears to have been rather minimal:
"but made himself [Jesus] of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant" (Paul in Php2:7)
Very little external evidence about him is available.
But then, according to Paul:
"we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden ..." (1Co2:7)
"... we speak not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, communicating spiritual [things] by spiritual [means]." (1Co2:13 Darby)
"... I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it." (1Co3:10)
"I did not receive it [Paul's gospel] from any man [Paul had met Peter & other eyewitnesses], nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." (Gal1:11-12)
Christianity did not grow from the sayings or deeds of an earthly Jesus!
Still later, step by step, in order to propel the actual Jesus as "evidence" for the divine entity claimed by Paul:
"... Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1Co1:24)
"... one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things ..." (1Co8:6 Darby)
"... God sent forth His Son, come of a woman ..." (Gal4:4 YLT)
the successive gospels considerably enhanced him beyond measure:
"But these [miraculous signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God ..." (Jn20:31a)
I trust the quotes (mostly from first century
authors) and data used here to be truthful
or, at least, providing valid information.
For example, I consider Mk14:27 (with Mt26:31
& Jn16:32) as an indication on what really
happened, as the gospel author (and his community)
I carefully determined "truthfulness" and avoided the rest, such as unauthentic sayings, ambiguities and expediencies,
(St. Gregory, fourth century bishop of Nazianzus, writing to St. Jerome (Hieron. ad. Nep.):
"A little jargon is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend, the more they admire. Our forefathers and doctors have often said not what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity dictated to them."
quoted by C. F. Volney, The Ruins (Boston, 1872) p. 177)
from my study on early Christianity (with the political, social, religious and cultural background) and the making of the New Testament (and other early Christian writings), plus, of course, a review of the critical studies on the subject.
Finally, I hope you'll find this work to be informative, concise and relevant. Step back into time and make a journey of discovery (and keep an open mind!).
Note: for best reading sequence, please follow the blue arrow.
Then, if you have any questions or comments,
if you find any errors, e-mail me, Bernard D. Muller.
I invite you also to read my best review from a distinguished scholar and the author's story (& more about my methodology).
All Bible quotes are from the NKJV or the NIV, except indicated otherwise.
The abbreviations are according to the NIV. The most used ones in this work are:
Mk: Mark's gospel (GMark), the earliest, Corinth, late 70 to early 71
Mt: Matthew's gospel (GMatthew), Antioch, 85 to 95
Lk: Luke's gospel (GLuke), Philippi, 81 to 93
Ac: Acts of the apostles ('Acts'), Philippi, months or a few years after GLuke
Jn: John's gospel (GJohn), Ephesus, 97 to 105
Note: range of years for time of (initial) publishing and place of origin are according to my own research (explanations will be given in this work).