Saturday, January 2, 2010

Jesus: Man or Myth?

Was Jesus of Nazareth a historical person who later became mythologized, or a myth who later became historized? Proponents of the later bring up some interesting questions:

  1. Why do Paul and all of the other Christian writers of the first century speak of Jesus as a spiritual entity and never make a reference to his life on earth?
  2. Why do Jewish and Pagan historians not mention the life of Jesus?
  3. Why is Christianity so similar to the Greco-Roman salvation cults of the time?
  4. Why are the gospels based almost entirely on the Old Testament?
  5. Why are the sayings of Jesus so similar to Greek Cynic philosophy?

I’ll go into each of these questions in later posts. For now, let’s take a look at when Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written. We know the gospels were written after 70CE because Jesus “predicts” the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, which happened that year. We also know that the gospels couldn’t have been written after 150CE because the first reference to them is made around that time. Most scholars who believe Jesus was an actual historical person date the gospel of Mark to 70CE because that’s the earliest possible date they can use. Those who believe that Jesus was a myth who later had a biographical story attached to him however put the composition of Mark at a later date.

Archeology backs up the 70-150CE dating. In particular, artifacts found at Nazareth, the alleged hometown of Jesus, shows that the town wasn’t populated until 70CE at the earliest. (See Not only is there no archeological evidence that Nazareth existed before 70CE, there is no mention of it in the literature. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Mishnah, or by the historian Josephus.

"And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled that he would be called a Nazorean." (Matt 2:23)

Since Nazareth was just beginning to be populated at the time the gospels were written, it is likely that the writers of the gospels made it the hometown of Jesus to fulfill the prophesy that he would be called a Nazorean. However, the prophecy Matthew mentions is not found in the Old Testament.

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