May 9, 2013

Problems With Jesus: Lack of Contemporaneous Evidence

The Temptation of Christ, 1854
The Temptation of Christ, 1854 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Of all the problems with the Jesus narrative contained in the Christian bible, I find the lack of contemporaneous evidence to be one of the most interesting. While most Jesus scholars appear to agree that he existed and that he was crucified, disagreement remains as to how closely his life resembled the biblical accounts. Without non-Christian contemporaneous historical writing from the time in which Jesus is supposed to have lived, died, and returned (as a zombie), many questions remain unanswered.

Critics of the Jesus narrative have pointed out that the nature of the contemporaneous historical writing we do have from the time period is such that it seems highly likely that Jesus would have received considerable attention if the events described in the Christian bible had taken place as described. Where are the alleged miracles and the resurrection itself? Without this sort of record, it is difficult to determine which - if any - portions of the biblical narrative should be regarded as historical vs. mythical.

To be clear, the problem is not simply the lack of written records of Jesus at this time. It is even worse than that. The problem is that the evidence we have leads us to expect that if the Jesus story contained in the Christian bible was accurate, portions of it would have been present in the written records (e.g., the miracles attributed to Jesus). Because these events are nowhere to be found, it seems unlikely that it happened much like what was described in the Christian bible.

What we know from the contemporaneous non-Christian records is that someone named Jesus probably lived around the time of the biblical Jesus, that he was crucified, and that some of his contemporaries may have considered him to be a messiah of sorts. Beyond that, we seem to have lots of speculation and little else.