Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

The Historicity of Jesus of Nazareth

My dear reader, lol,

Some of you may have noted that my last post had a comment attached to it, posted by one "Mark." What is intriguing is that the comment was about Jesus, whereas my post was about nearly getting hit by a car because I run at night in black shorts across parkways. Nonetheless, I am not one to let a challenge go unanswered. The post reads as follows:

"Jesus, if he ever existed, was a man, a human being. I have yet to see evidence sufficient to compel me to believe that he was or is a god. Where would you say the evidence is that compels you to believe that he was a god?"

In my reply, I addressed a preliminary issue in brief, and promised a fuller response. On a friend's blog I noticed the same commentator posted the same comment. In the event that he actually is hoping for a response, I plan to begin delivering one. Classes start on Monday, so I will be busier than ever. I took my undergraduate degree in Classical History, so I feel somewhat prepared to answer it, and will do my best.

First, I would like to distinguish between facticity and historicity. Facticity speaks to the reality of a person, place, thing, or event. I put on my socks this morning. That event is real and has facticity. It is a fact, disputed or not. It hasn't got historicity, however, even though it happened in the past, because it wasn't recorded, isn't part of the historical record, and in a generation or so, my socks and I will both have been forgotten from the human mind. Historicity refers to a recorded-ness of a fact. The great bulk of things that actually happen (have facticity) leave no historical record, and so haven't got historicity. On the other hand, a thing might be recorded falsely, and such things haven't got authentic historicity either, they aren't part of factual history, but rather are forgeries or mistaken memories of some sort. Is the distinction clear? It's important because of how the historical methods work.

History cannot, and does not aim at, trying to prove things as science does. It cannot provide the same kind of certainty, but can still provide reasonable certainty of another sort. When a thing is determined to have historicity, to be historical, that implies its facticity, since it cannot have historicity without facticity. To determine a thing's historicity, one must find it in the historical record, demonstrate that the record hasn't been tampered with, and that the record is reasonably, reliably accurate. Having accomplished these tasks, an historian will have shown a disputed event actually to have happened.

The first question question to be addressed from my earnest commentator's post is the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. If He didn't really exist, then their is no point trying to lay out my reasons for believing that He was/is God-in-Flesh. On the other hand, if His existence can be shown to be historical, then it follows that He, in all probability, at least existed - from which point we can begin to discuss His possible divinity.

Two ancient Roman historians mention Jesus of Nazareth: Tacitus, who lived from AD 55-117
and Suetonius, who lived from 70-160. Both of these men were youths during the time of the Apostles. Additionally, Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived from about AD 37 to about AD 100, also gives Jesus some press time. None of these writers was Christian, and while none were contemporaries of Jesus, they were all shortly after his time (born between 6 BC and AD 0, and died/resurrected about AD 27-33). Notably, they all take his existence for granted, and place his followers in the context of broader events in the Roman Empire that are otherwise noted by ancient historians. A few modern historians have argued that Christian monks, while copying the documents, inserted references to Jesus (particularly into Josephus' accounts). Their only evidence is speculation however, that the monks would have been upset by Josephus' failure to mention him. Moreover, those same historians have admitted that they see no reason to suspect tampering elsewhere in those same texts. If their theory is correct it would be odd, because there are other places in the historical records where a crafty monk might have inserted such references very naturally. The consensus among modern historians is that Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius are reasonably accurate; that archaeological finds have never ruled out their reports. It's a good thing, too, because these cats provide most of what we know about the ancient world, outside of archaeological remains.

A reasonable person might deny the divinity of Jesus, but he has no reason to deny his reliable presence in the historical record; which is to say there is no reason to doubt that, in some shape or form, Jesus of Nazareth actually existed.

About His divinity more will follow soon.

3 comments:

Mark said...

Ryan, I very much appreciate your replies so far to my previous comment. I'm looking forward to reading your further reply to my question regarding Jesus, "Where would you say the evidence is that compels you to believe that he was a god?" Thanks for taking my question seriously. I will reply to your responses soon after you've answered my query.

His Handmaid's son said...

Absolutely, Mark. You're welcome. I only ask you to please bear with me. I am currently holding down two jobs (a fulltime and a part time), and grad classes start fulltime on Monday, so life's given me a few things for my plate. But I haven't forgotten, and won't forget your question.

Mark said...

No problem, Ryan. I'm in no hurry at all. Also, feel free to keep your replies brief, and I will respond in brief as well.