Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Question, Part One

Greetings, fellow castaways. I apologize for the late post this week. Between varsity softball and varsity track, our house is kept busy as of late, and I will be supporting my children before I sit down to write.

I was 23 years old when I came to know God as more than just a religion. Through a series of occurrences that could only be explained by the supernatural, I was changed into a new and wholly different person.

Now, as a man of logic and proof, there remained a huge list of questions about why and how I came to this new place in my life. After all, I was a devout agnostic, if there could ever be one. I had reasoned to myself that there was a God, because throughout my life, there were episodes where He continually showed Himself as a real entity, out there, beyond my knowing. And suddenly here He was, real and close and personal.

The biggest question of all is encompassed in the truth behind the single most pivotal moment in the history of Humankind: the resurrection from the dead of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Here, this week, I want to just take a moment to address the evidence of this event, and how it was that I came to believe the biblical account as passed down by the men who dictated the Four Gospel records.

The first popular point of contention pushed by the doubters is that Jesus never existed as a person. They say that all accounts of his existence were written by Christians, and by reason of their agenda being a conflict of interest, they couldn't be counted upon to be reliable witnesses.

Now, I'm not even going to go into his origins. What we're talking about is the evidence placed forth that will tell us whether or not, with REASONABLE ACCURACY, there was such a man as Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified on the 14th of Nisan in or about AD33.

For this first point, we turn to two men: Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus. Josephus was a Jewish historian, and Tacitus was a Roman one. Neither of these men has any interest or desire to support these Christ-followers in any way, shape or form. In fact, their  points of view are diametrically opposed to those members of this new cult.

Let's start with Tacitus, from his Annals. This is set up by the accusation by rumor that Nero ordered the burning of Rome:

Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time Broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.

The thing we need to remember here is that Tacitus was a Roman citizen, of the empire that brought high culture to the world. Not everyone in the world at that time was a superstitious, knuckle-dragging fool. These were the men who refined mathematics and philosophy, established law and administrative practices that are still used today. For Tacitus to specifically mention the Crucifixion meant he had done his own research, and turned up the order from Pilate. He didn't speak as though the event was some vague rumor; he spoke with the authority of one who had established a fact. In addition, Tacitus lived in a period close enough to the events in question that he could speak with authority. he was born in AD56 and died in 117. He write Annals sometime between AD100 and 112, which was only about 70 to 80 years after Jesus was executed. That would be the equivalent of a news article about Audie Murphy being written by a journalist today. John the Apostle was still alive and serving out an exile on Patmos in AD100.

Titus Flavius Josephus was born in AD36 in Jerusalem, and named by his father Joseph ben Matityahu. That places him right in the heart of the scene, right after it happened, in the context of history. He originally fought against the Romans in an uprising, surrendering his forces in AD67. He was then transported as a hostage to Rome, where he later shifted allegiance to Rome, even being awarded a citizenship. He was a translator, and a recorder of Jewish history for Emperor Vespasian.

In AD93, Josephus published Antiquities of the Jews. He wrote about an incident involving some of these followers of Jesus:

(Regarding Ananias the Younger, serving as High Priest) Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road. So he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.

As said before, Josephus was no stranger to the controversy surrounding Jesus; he lived  in Jerusalem and could not have escaped hearing about the commotion surrounding the man.

Now, I've been in conversation with some who told me flat out, "There is no way you can prove Jesus existed." Now, it's time to establish something: There's a difference between Evidence, and Proof. The kind of proof this person was asking for is scientific proof. In order to prove something scientifically, you have to reproduce it in a controlled environment. So, given that fixed standard, it's impossible to prove that there was ever such a person as Thomas Jefferson. Think about it. All we have are writings and paintings. Only in Tom's case, we have some bones in a coffin that someone said were his, but are they really? That was over two hundred years ago. Now we do have "anecdotal evidence" that Jefferson existed, dated from the time of his existence. We also have writings from several men from the first century who mention records of a man named Jesus, some of whom walked the earth with him. John wrote "We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (The Gospel of John, Chapter 1, verse 14).

Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul, told King Agrippa and Festus the governor, "What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.” (The Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 26)

The wealth of evidence points squarely to the conclusion that it is more reasonable to believe there was a true historical man Jesus of Nazareth than not to. These are not the only contemporary records of his existence. By contemporary, I mean those accounts written within one hundred years of the persons/incidents in question. I just covered these four for lack of space, and there are plenty of books that discuss it in even more depth.

Some folks find it easier to believe Julius Caesar's writings are more accurate historical records than John's. Let's look at that: Caesar's work was written between 100BC and 44BC. The oldest existing copies date from 900AD, a thousand years later. Yet no one questions their authenticity. John wrote his gospel about 70AD. The oldest existing copies of his book date from 125AD, only fifty years later, and somehow, it's considered as less reliable. I'm thinking some folks don't have a problem with the evidence; they have a problem with their own agendas.

I'm convinced Jesus of Nazareth was a real man who walked the earth in the first century of our current calendar era. Next week, we'll continue the Question with the next event that led up to the single most pivotal moment in Human History.

Stay tuned; it's gonna get good.

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