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 think that he existed and that he was crucified, disagreement remains as to how closely his life resembled the various biblical accounts (some of which conflict with one another). Without non-Christian contemporaneous historical writing (i.e., documents from the time in which Jesus is supposed to have lived, died, and returned to roam the Earth as a zombie devouring the brains of his followers), 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 from 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 almost certainly 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 very unlikely that they happened much like what was described in the Christian bible.

What we know from the contemporaneous non-Christian records is that someone named Jesus (or something similar) 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 do not seem to have much more than speculation.

Personally, I do not find the question of whether there might have been a historical figure on which the Jesus character was loosely based to be all that interesting. Unless this person closely resembled the one described in the bible, I am not sure this is worth our time.