This is somewhat a follow up to my post:http://mypath2god.com/i-struggle-to-believe-how-can-i-know-for-sure/
In that post, I give some rough outlines, but do not really get into the meat of things. Many people out there believe that there is likely a creator, a supreme deity, or a spirit realm of some kind that may or may not contain Gods or Goddesses. There are many religions out there, and how can you know FOR SURE there is one right religion? It is a daunting question. Choosing the wrong one could mean an eternity in some kind of purgatory potentially. Many people just choose not to think about it, and honestly that is the easiest approach, but when you have death’s door looming, you start to think long and hard about this topic.
Make no mistake about it. This is THE most important question of your life! I am going to list all the reasons why I chose Christianity over all other religions. This is not a knock on other’s faith, or a reprimand of Atheists, or any other group. I can completely understand their points of view if they have not looked deeply at the evidence out there. I consider myself an intelligent person by most metrics. I am often the “go-to” guy for advice for many of my friends because I give sound and thoughtful counsel. I did not choose Christianity simply because I was born into it. After my cardiac arrest I looked deeply into every religion, I still live up to my name as a doubting Thomas and have to reinforce my faith by doing research. Every time I have doubts and research the this subject, I find more and more evidence that supports I made the right choice.
Let’s assume you already believe there is a God, as that is another post for another day. The next point would be, what ancient manuscripts are most likely to be real and the most historically accurate?
Only the Bible. The Bible has proven to be more historically and archaeologically accurate than any other ancient book. It has been subjected to the minutest scientific textual analysis possible to humanity and has been proven to be authentic in every way. Regardless of if you believe it was divinely inspired or not, the historical accuracy and preservation is unparalleled compared to any other ancient documents.
Quality: “The quantity of New Testament manuscripts is unparalleled in ancient literature. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, about 8,000 Latin manuscripts, and another 1,000 manuscripts in other languages (Syriac, Coptic, etc.). In addition to this extraordinary number, there are tens of thousands of citations of New Testament passages by the early church fathers. In contrast, the typical number of existing manuscript copies for any of the works of the Greek and Latin authors, such as Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, or Tacitus, ranges from one to 20.”
Quantity: “Because of the great reverence the Jewish scribes held toward the Scriptures, they exercised extreme care in making new copies of the Hebrew Bible. The entire scribal process was specified in meticulous detail to minimize the possibility of even the slightest error. The number of letters, words, and lines were counted, and the middle letters of the Pentateuch and the Old Testament were determined. If a single mistake was discovered, the entire manuscript would be destroyed.
As a result of this extreme care, the quality of the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible surpasses all other ancient manuscripts. The 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provided a significant check on this, because these Hebrew scrolls antedate the earliest Masoretic Old Testament manuscripts by about 1,000 years. But in spite of this time span, the number of variant readings between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text is quite small, and most of these are variations in spelling and style.”
Time span: Apart from some fragments, the earliest Masoretic manuscript of the Old Testament is dated at A.D. 895. This is due to the systematic destruction of worn manuscripts by the Masoretic scribes. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from 200 B.C. to A.D. 68 drastically reduced the time span from the writing of the Old Testament books to our earliest copies of them.
The time span of the New Testament manuscripts is exceptional. The manuscripts written on papyrus came from the second and third centuries A.D. The John Rylands Fragment (P52) of the Gospel of John is dated at A.D. 117-38, only a few decades after the Gospel was written. The Bodmer Papyri are dated from A.D. 175-225, and the Chester Beatty Papyri date from about A.D. 250. The time span for most of the New Testament is less than 200 years (and some books are within 100 years) from the date of authorship to the date of our earliest manuscripts. This can be sharply contrasted with the average gap of over 1,000 years between the composition and the earliest copy of the writings of other ancient authors.”
Internal Accuracy: Unlike many other ancient manuscripts, most of the authors state “they” are the eyewitness and not reporting on a second hand account. “The independent eyewitness accounts in the New Testament of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were written by people who were intimately acquainted with Jesus Christ. Their gospels and epistles reveal their integrity and complete commitment to the truth, and they maintained their testimony even through persecution and martyrdom. All the evidence inside and outside the New Testament runs contrary to the claim made by form criticism that the early church distorted the life and teachings of Christ. Most of the New Testament was written between A.D. 47 and 70, and all of it was complete before the end of the first century. There simply was not enough time for myths about Christ to be created and propagated. And the multitudes of eyewitnesses who were alive when the New Testament books began to be circulated would have challenged blatant historical fabrications about the life of Christ. The Bible places great stress on accurate historical details, …”
External Accuracy: “The historicity of Jesus Christ is well-established by early Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources, and these extrabiblical writings affirm the major details of the New Testament portrait of the Lord. The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus made specific references to John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and James in his Antiquities of the Jews. In this work, Josephus gives us many background details about the Herods, the Sadducees and Pharisees, the high priests like Annas and Caiaphas, and the Roman emperors mentioned in the gospels and Acts.
We find another early secular reference to Jesus in a letter written a little after A.D. 73 by an imprisoned Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion. This letter to his son compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Christ. Other first- and second-century writers who mention Christ include the Roman historians Cornelius Tacitus (Annals) and Suetonius (Life of Claudius, Lives of the Caesars), the Roman governor Pliny the Younger (Epistles), and the Greek satirist Lucian (On the Death of Peregrine). Jesus is also mentioned a number of times in the Jewish Talmud.
The Old and New Testaments make abundant references to nations, kings, battles, cities, mountains, rivers, buildings, treaties, customs, economics, politics, dates, etc. Because the historical narratives of the Bible are so specific, many of its details are open to archaeological investigation. While we cannot say that archaeology proves the authority of the Bible, it is fair to say that archaeological evidence has provided external confirmation of hundreds of biblical statements. Higher criticism in the 19th century made many damaging claims that would completely overthrow the integrity of the Bible, but the explosion of archaeological knowledge in the 20th century reversed almost all of these claims. Noted archaeologists such as William F. Albright, Nelson Glueck, and G. Ernest Wright developed a great respect for the historical accuracy of the Scriptures as a result of their work.
Out of the multitude of archaeological discoveries related to the Bible, consider a few examples to illustrate the remarkable external substantiation of biblical claims. Excavations at Nuzi (1925-41), Mari (discovered in 1933), and Alalakh (1937-39; 1946-49) provide helpful background information that fits well with the Genesis stories of the patriarchal period. The Nuzi tablets and Mari letters illustrate the patriarchal customs in great detail, and the Ras Shamra tablets discovered in ancient Ugarit in Syria shed much light on Hebrew prose and poetry and Canaanite culture. The Ebla tablets discovered recently in northern Syria also affirm the antiquity and accuracy of the Book of Genesis.
Some scholars once claimed that the Mosaic Law could not have been written by Moses, because writing was largely unknown at that time and because the law code of the Pentateuch was too sophisticated for that period. But the codified Laws of Hammurabi (ca. 1700 B.C.), the Lipit-Ishtar code (ca. 1860 B.C.), the Laws of Eshnunna (ca. 1950 B.C.), and the even earlier Ur-Nammu code have refuted these claims.”
That brings us to the core of Christianity. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Admittedly this was the one that I struggled most with at first, and the overwhelming about of evidence supporting his life, death, and resurrection is what in the end won me over.
This following author summarizes much of what I have read from a countless amount of sources. Below taken from: https://missionarybrewer.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/why-believe-in-christianity-over-other-religions/ check out his site for a lot more information.
“How can they be tested? It isn’t enough to just believe in something, it is crucial that what we choose to believe in is actually real, that it is actually factual. This is where Christianity is so strong. Unlike the other religions, Christianity hinges on a historical event: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If this didn’t really happen, if it isn’t a historical fact, then we might as well believe in an invisible pink unicorn as our savior! This is exactly what the Apostle Paul claimed . . .
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ. . .” ~ 1 Cor 15:14-15
So, Christianity gives us a truth test. No other religion does this. There is no other faith that hinges on a historical event this way. But how can we know if the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus actually happened? We can approach this question the same way historians do when they research historical events. We can look at all of the evidence available, establish what the known facts are, and see which possible account of events best lines up with these facts. The following is a list of twelve facts, concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus, that can be clearly shown to be historical realities. These facts are virtually universally accepted as true by historians and scholars (even by those who are not Christians). If you are interested in statements from historians and scholars, you can see many examples here.
- Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
- He was buried.
- Soon afterwards the disciples were discouraged, bereaved and despondent, having lost hope.
- Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment.
- The disciples had experiences that they believed were the actual appearances of the risen Christ. These experiences occurred to both individuals and groups of people.
- Due to these experiences, the disciples lives were thoroughly transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection. They were even willing to die for their belief.
- The proclamation of the Resurrection took place very early, from the beginning of church history.
- The disciple’s public testimony and preaching of the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.
- The gospel message centered on the preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
- Sunday was the primary day of worshiping and gathering.
- James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic before this time, became a follower of Jesus when he believed he also saw the risen Jesus.
- Just a few years later, Paul became a believer, due to an experience that he also believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
You might at this point ask, “Yeah but how do I know those are really facts?” I don’t have the room here to explain the historical evidence for each of these points. But, the following short videos do a good job of summarizing the evidence:
Ok, so now we have some historical facts to go from. Now we need to look at the possible explanations for these facts and which one fits the best. Many people have put forward theories to try to explain the empty tomb of Jesus. The following 9 are the ones that have been considered the strongest possibilities. All of the following are serious theories that the opponents of the resurrection of Jesus have actually proposed to try to explain these well established facts:
- Wrong Tomb – The disciples simply mixed it up and went to the wrong tomb.
- This theory does not satisfy facts 5-12 from the above list.
- Legend – This is just something that people made up after the fact.
- None of the facts are satisfied by this theory.
- Twin – Jesus had a secret identical twin who pretended to be the risen Christ after Jesus’ death.
- Fails to explain facts 4 and 11.
- Hallucination – The disciples hallucinated seeing Jesus after his death.
- Fails to explain facts 5, 11, and 12.
- Existential/Spiritual Resurrection – The resurrection is not intended to be literal. It is a metaphor for what happens in our hearts.
- Doesn’t explain 4, 5, 11, or 12.
- Disciples Stole the Body
- Can’t explain facts 5, 6, 11, or 12.
- Authorities Hid the Body
- Cannot explain facts 5 – 12.
- “Swoon” Theory – Jesus did not die on the cross; he fainted from exhaustion. The cold temperature and spices revived him.
- Can’t satisfy 1 and 6. Additionally, medical science has determined that Jesus could not have survived the scourging and crucifixion.
- Alien Jesus – Jesus was from another advanced civilization and was “transported” back to his spacecraft, thus leaving the tomb empty. I’m not making this up. That’s actually a theory.
- This actually fits all the facts.
- Supernatural Resurrection – The biblical account is accurate and Jesus bodily rose from the dead.
- This explains all of the facts.
So, the available information demonstrates that the only two theories which satisfy all the known facts are either that Jesus was an alien, or he was truly resurrected in the body. Since Jesus claimed to be God and testified in advance that he would be resurrected, I think this points towards the last theory to be the most likely. Also, the alien theory has some trouble with fact 1 (that Jesus was crucified). It’s actually hard to believe I am really arguing against that theory.
This author also has an awesome article found here: https://missionarybrewer.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/the-bible-and-jesus-letter-explaining-why-i-believe/
The next area to look at would be what other cultures, religions, and authors outside of the Bible thought about Jesus. I found this excellent site http://coldcasechristianity.com/2017/who-is-jesus-according-to-other-religions/ detailing a lot of this information in a consolidated place. I have also read through this from my old college class “World Religions” and several other places corroborating that this site is not making this stuff up.
They open with “People trying to discover the truth about God would be wise to take a hard look at Jesus before looking anywhere else. While that may sound like a bold assertion in and of itself, it really isn’t when you consider Jesus is the one religious leader who is most frequently mentioned by religious groups, whether or not they happen to be Christian. Every major religious movement considers Jesus to be an important religious figure. Every movement makes some effort to account for His existence and teaching. This ought to give seekers a reason to pause and consider the life of Jesus seriously.”
They go into much more detail if you click the link above, but I will give snippets for each one here:
Judaism: Judaism acknowledges that Jesus was the son of Mary, that Jesus was respected, had many Disciples, claimed to be the Messiah, was crucified on the cross, and that his followers believe he was resurrected from the dead. What I found interesting was that they believed Jesus Was a Miracle Worker
“Ancient Jews also acknowledged Jesus had supernatural powers and performed miracles. They typically denied, however, Jesus’ power came from God. Instead, they often claimed Jesus wielded the power of the Devil (similar to the record of opposition found in the New Testament):”
“Jesus practiced magic and led Israel astray” (b. Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b)
“The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore, brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed. Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest… Yeshu spoke up: “Madam, I am the Messiah and I revive the dead.” A dead body was brought in; he pronounced the letters of the Ineffable Name and the corpse came to life. The Queen was greatly moved and said: ‘This is a true sign.’ …the Sages came before the Queen, complaining that Yeshu practiced sorcery and was leading everyone astray… He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of clay and they flew into the air. He spoke the same letters over a millstone that had been placed upon the waters. He sat in it and it floated like a boat. When they saw this the people marveled.” (The Toledot Yeshu)
Islam: “The Islamic faith was founded by Muhammad on the Arabian Peninsula in the early 7th Century. He claimed to be restoring the monotheistic religion corrupted by the Jews and Christians. As a result, Muslims acknowledge the impact of Jesus and recognize Him as a significant person within their own religious system. The Quran recognizes Jesus was born by virgin Mary, they believe he was to be revered, they believe he was one of God’s top prophets, they believe he was a wise teacher, they believe he was a miracle worker, they believe he ascended to heaven, and they believe he will return.
These miracles included the healing of a blind man and a leper:
“And will make him [‘Iesa (Jesus)] a Messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I design for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allâh’s Leave; and I heal him who was born blind, and the leper…” (Quran 3:49)
Jesus also spoke miraculously as an infant:
“He will speak to the people in the cradle and in manhood, and he will be one of the righteous.” (Quran 3:46)
The Quran also reports that Jesus brought life to the dead:
“…I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I bring the dead to life by Allâh’s Leave. And I inform you of what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely, therein is a sign for you, if you believe.” (Quran 3:49)
Ahmadiyya: This Islamic offshoot that started in India believes Jesus was the son of virgin Mary, was a prophet, was a wise teacher, and was crucified on the cross.
They also believe: “According to Ahmad, Jesus was removed from the cross and his injuries were treated with “Marham-e-Issa” (“Ointment of Jesus”). He appeared to His disciples, then travelled to Afghanistan and Kashmir where He continued to teach, preach and heal the sick. He eventually died at the age of 120 in India and was supposedly buried in Srinaga.)”
Bahá’í: Bahá’u’lláh taught all of religious history had been revealed through a series of messengers sent by God, and he considered himself to be the last of these messengers. Bahá’u’lláh recognized several leaders from prior religious movements and claimed these men revealed the progressive truth of God to each generation
They believe Jesus was born by a virgin Mary, that he spoke for God, was a wise teacher, had a divine and human nature, Was crucified and resurrected as atonement for humanity, Jesus was a messenger from God, and that he was a miracle worker.
“We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all created things. Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him, the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of the sinner sanctified.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 85)
Hinduism: Hinduism is a very diverse religious faith that began in India. It is rooted in religious views dating back to the Iron Age of India (12th to 6th centuries BC) and it has no single founder.
They believed Jesus was a holy man and a wise teacher. Most interestingly they believed he was a God.
“Hindus are more than willing to acknowledge Jesus as divine, if He is not seen as ‘uniquely’ Divine. Hindus often worship many gods and goddesses and some are eager to include Jesus in their list of deities. They don’t, however, see Jesus as the only way to God. Instead, some understand Jesus as the perfect example of “self-realization” (the goal of Hindu “dharma”). Many Hindus see Jesus as a symbol of what humans can attain, rather than a true historical person. He is divine in his modeling, if not in His nature, and He is not the only such model. While some Hindus may see Jesus as a God-man of sorts, they would also site other examples such as Rama, Krishna and Buddha. Jesus is simply one of many “ishtas” (forms of the divine) in the history of mankind.”
Buddhism: Buddhism is based primarily on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (a spiritual teacher from India who lived from approximately 563BC to 483BC and is known as the Buddha), Buddhism incorporates a variety of religious traditions, beliefs and practices.
Buddhists believe Jesus was an enlightened man, a wise teacher, and a holy man. In fact, the Dalai Lama does not typically elevate Buddha to a greater status than Jesus when discussing the two figures.
They have a good closing line:
Is He Worthy of An Investigation?
Given Jesus is a common feature of the major religions of the world, it might be important for us to learn more about the man whom everyone feels the need to describe. While the world’s religions account for Jesus tangentially, only one faith system is established on the authentic, attested eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, teaching and ministry. If one was inclined to begin a spiritual quest for truth, it would be wise to start with the faith system best describing the man all other faith systems find themselves compelled to explain.
Writings about Jesus from other sources.
In the next section I will detail the articles found written about Jesus outside of religious manuscripts.
Ancient Roman writings from this site: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jesus-exist/ I took short clippings, as it is a very long and detailed site.
“Tacitus—or more formally, Caius/Gaius (or Publius) Cornelius Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.)—was a Roman senator, orator and ethnographer, and arguably the best of Roman historians… Tacitus’s last major work, titled Annals, written c. 116–117 C.E., includes a biography of Nero…Tacitus’s terse statement about “Christus” clearly corroborates the New Testament on certain historical details of Jesus’ death. Tacitus presents four pieces of accurate knowledge about Jesus: (1) Christus, used by Tacitus to refer to Jesus, was one distinctive way by which some referred to him, even though Tacitus mistakenly took it for a personal name rather than an epithet or title; (2) this Christus was associated with the beginning of the movement of Christians, whose name originated from his; (3) he was executed by the Roman governor of Judea; and (4) the time of his death was during Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Judea, during the reign of Tiberius. (Many New Testament scholars date Jesus’ death to c. 29 C.E.; Pilate governed Judea in 26–36 C.E., while Tiberius was emperor 14–37 C.E.6)”
“JAMES, BROTHER OF JESUS. In Jewish Antiquities, parts of which are included in this mid-17th-century book of translations, Josephus refers to a James, who is described as “the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah.” Josephus’s mention of Jesus to specify which James was being executed by the high priest Ananus in 62 C.E. affirms the existence of the historical Jesus.”
“HE TESTIMONY OF JOSEPHUS. This 15th-century manuscript, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, contains the portion of Josephus’s Testimonium Flavianum that refers to Jesus (highlighted in blue). The first sentence of the manuscript, highlighted in green, reads, from the Greek, “Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.” The majority of scholars believe this passage of the Testimonium is based on the original writings of Josephus but contains later additions, likely made by Christian scribes.”
Hostile Non-Biblical Pagan Accounts: (Taken from http://coldcasechristianity.com/2017/is-there-any-evidence-for-jesus-outside-the-bible/)
Thallus is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus and he is so ancient his writings don’t even exist anymore. But Julius Africanus, writing around 221AD does quote Thallus who previously tried to explain away the darkness occurring at Jesus’ crucifixion:
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.” (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)
Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD)
Sometime after 70AD, a Syrian philosopher named Mara Bar-Serapion, writing to encourage his son, compared the life and persecution of Jesus with that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. The fact Jesus is known to be a real person with this kind of influence is important. Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King”:
“What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?…After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted.”
In a manner similar to Thallus, Julius Africanus also mentions a historian named Phlegon who wrote a chronicle of history around 140AD. In this history, Phlegon also mentions the darkness surrounding the crucifixion in an effort to explain it:
“Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth to the ninth hour.” (Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)
“And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place … ” (Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 33)
“Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.” (Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 59)
From these accounts, we can add something to our understanding: Jesus had the ability to accurately predict the future, was crucified under the reign of Tiberius Caesar and demonstrated His wounds after he was resurrected.
Lucian of Samosata: (115-200 A.D.)
Lucian was a Greek satirist who spoke sarcastically of Christ and Christians, but in the process, he did affirm they were real people and never referred to them as fictional characters:
“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account….You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.” (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine. 11-13)
Celsus was quite antagonistic to the claims of the Gospels, but in his criticism he unknowingly affirmed and reinforced the Biblical authors and their content. His writing is extensive and he alludes to 80 different Biblical quotes, confirming their early appearance in history. In addition, he admits the miracles of Jesus were generally believed in the early 2nd century:
“Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.”
Hostile Non-Biblical Jewish Accounts:
In more detail than any other non-biblical historian, Josephus writes about Jesus in his “the Antiquities of the Jews” in 93AD. Josephus was born just four years after the crucifixion. He was a consultant for Jewish rabbis at an early age, became a Galilean military commander by the age of sixteen, and he was an eyewitness to much of what he recorded in the first century A.D.
“Now around this time lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was a worker of amazing deeds and was a teacher of people who gladly accept the truth. He won over both many Jews and many Greeks. Pilate, when he heard him accused by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, (but) those who had first loved him did not cease (doing so). To this day the tribe of Christians named after him has not disappeared” (This neutral reconstruction follows closely the one proposed by John Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person).
Jewish Talmud (400-700AD)
While the earliest Talmudic writings of Jewish Rabbis appear in the 5th century, the tradition of these Rabbinic authors indicates they are faithfully transmitting teachings from the early “Tannaitic” period of the 1st Century BC to the 2nd Century AD. Scholars believe there are a number of Talmudic writings referring to Jesus, and many of these writings are said to use code words to describe Jesus (such as “Balaam” or “Ben Stada” or “a certain one”). But for our purposes we’ll be very conservative and limit our examination to the passages referring to Jesus in a more direct way:
“Jesus practiced magic and led Israel astray” (b. Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b)
“Rabbi Hisda (d. 309) said that Rabbi Jeremiah bar Abba said, ‘What is that which is written, ‘No evil will befall you, nor shall any plague come near your house’? (Psalm 91:10)… ‘No evil will befall you’ (means) that evil dreams and evil thoughts will not tempt you; ‘nor shall any plague come near your house’ (means) that you will not have a son or a disciple who burns his food like Jesus of Nazareth.” (b. Sanhedrin 103a; cf. b. Berakhot 17b)
“Our rabbis have taught that Jesus had five disciples: Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. They brought Matthai to (to trial). He said, ‘Must Matthai be killed? For it is written, ‘When (mathai) shall I come and appear before God?’” (Psalm 92:2) They said to him, “Yes Matthai must be killed, for it is written, ‘When (mathai) he dies his name will perish’” (Psalm 41:5). They brought Nakai. He said to them, “Must Nakai be killed? For it is written, “The innocent (naqi) and the righteous will not slay’” (Exodus 23:7). They said to him, “Yes, Nakai must be kille, for it is written, ‘In secret places he slays the innocent (naqi)’” (Psalm 10:8). (b. Sanhedrin 43a; the passage continues in a similar way for Nezer, Buni and Todah)
And this, perhaps the most famous of Talmudic passages about Jesus:
“It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), “He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover. (b. Sanhedrin 43a)
From just these passages mentioning Jesus by name, we can conclude the following: Jesus had magical powers, led the Jews away from their beliefs, had disciples who were martyred for their faith (one of whom was named Matthai), and was executed on the day before the Passover.
The Toledot Yeshu (1000AD)
The Toledot Yeshu is a medieval Jewish retelling of the life of Jesus. It is completely anti-Christian, to be sure. There are many versions of these ‘retellings’, and as part of the transmitted oral and written tradition of the Jews, we can presume their original place in antiquity, dating back to the time of Jesus’ first appearance as an influential leader who was drawing Jews away from their faith in the Law. The Toledot Yeshu contains a determined effort to explain away the miracles of Jesus and to deny the virgin birth. In some places, the text is quite vicious, but it does confirm many elements of the New Testament writings. Let’s take a look at a portion of the text (Jesus is called ‘Yehoshua’):
“In the year 3671 (in Jewish reckonging, it being ca 90 B.C.) in the days of King Jannaeus, a great misfortune befell Israel, when there arose a certain disreputable man of the tribe of Judah, whose name was Joseph Pandera. He lived at Bethlehem, in Judah. Near his house dwelt a widow and her lovely and chaste daughter named Miriam. Miriam was betrothed to Yohanan, of the royal house of David, a man learned in the Torah and God-fearing. At the close of a certain Sabbath, Joseph Pandera, attractive and like a warrior in appearance, having gazed lustfully upon Miriam, knocked upon the door of her room and betrayed her by pretending that he was her betrothed husband, Yohanan. Even so, she was amazed at this improper conduct and submitted only against her will. Thereafter, when Yohanan came to her, Miriam expressed astonishment at behavior so foreign to his character. It was thus that they both came to know the crime of Joseph Pandera and the terrible mistake on the part of Miriam… Miriam gave birth to a son and named him Yehoshua, after her brother. This name later deteriorated to Yeshu (“Yeshu” is the Jewish “name” for Jesus. It means “May His Name Be Blotted Out”). On the eighth day he was circumcised. When he was old enough the lad was taken by Miriam to the house of study to be instructed in the Jewish tradition. One day Yeshu walked in front of the Sages with his head uncovered, showing shameful disrespect. At this, the discussion arose as to whether this behavior did not truly indicate that Yeshu was an illegitimate child and the son of a niddah. Moreover, the story tells that while the rabbis were discussing the Tractate Nezikin, he gave his own impudent interpretation of the law and in an ensuing debate he held that Moses could not be the greatest of the prophets if he had to receive counsel from Jethro. This led to further inquiry as to the antecedents of Yeshu, and it was discovered through Rabban Shimeon ben Shetah that he was the illegitimate son of Joseph Pandera. Miriam admitted it. After this became known, it was necessary for Yeshu to flee to Upper Galilee. After King Jannaeus, his wife Helene ruled over all Israel. In the Temple was to be found the Foundation Stone on which were engraven the letters of God’s Ineffable Name. Whoever learned the secret of the Name and its use would be able to do whatever he wished. Therefore, the Sages took measures so that no one should gain this knowledge. Lions of brass were bound to two iron pillars at the gate of the place of burnt offerings. Should anyone enter and learn the Name, when he left the lions would roar at him and immediately the valuable secret would be forgotten. Yeshu came and learned the letters of the Name; he wrote them upon the parchment which he placed in an open cut on his thigh and then drew the flesh over the parchment. As he left, the lions roared and he forgot the secret. But when he came to his house he reopened the cut in his flesh with a knife an lifted out the writing. Then he remembered and obtained the use of the letters. He gathered about himself three hundred and ten young men of Israel and accused those who spoke ill of his birth of being people who desired greatness and power for themselves. Yeshu proclaimed, “I am the Messiah; and concerning me Isaiah prophesied and said, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’” He quoted other messianic texts, insisting, “David my ancestor prophesied concerning me: ‘The Lord said to me, thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.’” The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore, brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed. Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest. When word of these happenings came to Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin decided to bring about the capture of Yeshu. They sent messengers, Annanui and Ahaziah, who, pretending to be his disciples, said that they brought him an invitation from the leaders of Jerusalem to visit them. Yeshu consented on condition the members of the Sanhedrin receive him as a lord. He started out toward Jerusalem and, arriving at Knob, acquired an ass on which he rode into Jerusalem, as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah. The Sages bound him and led him before Queen Helene, with the accusation: “This man is a sorcerer and entices everyone.” Yeshu replied, “The prophets long ago prophesied my coming: ‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,’ and I am he; but as for them, Scripture says ‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.’” Queen Helene asked the Sages: “What he says, is it in your Torah?” They replied: “It is in our Torah, but it is not applicable to him, for it is in Scripture: ‘And that prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.’ He has not fulfilled the signs and conditions of the Messiah.” Yeshu spoke up: “Madam, I am the Messiah and I revive the dead.” A dead body was brought in; he pronounced the letters of the Ineffable Name and the corpse came to life. The Queen was greatly moved and said: “This is a true sign.” She reprimanded the Sages and sent them humiliated from her presence. Yeshu’s dissident followers increased and there was controversy in Israel. Yeshu went to Upper Galilee. the Sages came before the Queen, complaining that Yeshu practiced sorcery and was leading everyone astray. Therefore she sent Annanui and Ahaziah to fetch him. The found him in Upper Galilee, proclaiming himself the Son of God. When they tried to take him there was a struggle, but Yeshu said to the men of Upper Galilee: “Wage no battle.” He would prove himself by the power which came to him from his Father in heaven. He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of clay and they flew into the air. He spoke the same letters over a millstone that had been placed upon the waters. He sat in it and it floated like a boat. When they saw this the people marveled. At the behest of Yeshu, the emissaries departed and reported these wonders to the Queen. She trembled with astonishment. Then the Sages selected a man named Judah Iskarioto and brought him to the Sanctuary where he learned the letters of the Ineffable Name as Yeshu had done. When Yeshu was summoned before the queen, this time there were present also the Sages and Judah Iskarioto. Yeshu said: “It is spoken of me, ‘I will ascend into heaven.’” He lifted his arms like the wings of an eagle and he flew between heaven and earth, to the amazement of everyone…Yeshu was seized. His head was covered with a garment and he was smitten with pomegranate staves; but he could do nothing, for he no longer had the Ineffable Name. Yeshu was taken prisoner to the synagogue of Tiberias, and they bound him to a pillar. To allay his thirst they gave him vinegar to drink. On his head they set a crown of thorns. There was strife and wrangling between the elders and the unrestrained followers of Yeshu, as a result of which the followers escaped with Yeshu to the region of Antioch; there Yeshu remained until the eve of the Passover. Yeshu then resolved to go the Temple to acquire again the secret of the Name. That year the Passover came on a Sabbath day. On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu, accompanied by his disciples, came to Jerusalem riding upon an ass. Many bowed down before him. He entered the Temple with his three hundred and ten followers. One of them, Judah Iskarioto apprised the Sages that Yeshu was to be found in the Temple, that the disciples had taken a vow by the Ten Commandments not to reveal his identity but that he would point him out by bowing to him. So it was done and Yeshu was seized. Asked his name, he replied to the question by several times giving the names Mattai, Nakki, Buni, Netzer, each time with a verse quoted by him and a counter-verse by the Sages. Yeshu was put to death on the sixth hour on the eve of the Passover and of the Sabbath. When they tried to hang him on a tree it broke, for when he had possessed the power he had pronounced by the Ineffable Name that no tree should hold him. He had failed to pronounce the prohibition over the carob-stalk, for it was a plant more than a tree, and on it he was hanged until the hour for afternoon prayer, for it is written in Scripture, “His body shall not remain all night upon the tree.” They buried him outside the city. On the first day of the week his bold followers came to Queen Helene with the report that he who was slain was truly the Messiah and that he was not in his grave; he had ascended to heaven as he prophesied. Diligent search was made and he was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the sand over which the waters flowed into the garden. Queen Helene demanded, on threat of a severe penalty, that the body of Yeshu be shown to her within a period of three days. There was a great distress. When the keeper of the garden saw Rabbi Tanhuma walking in the field and lamenting over the ultimatum of the Queen, the gardener related what he had done, in order that Yeshu’s followers should not steal the body and then claim that he had ascended into heaven. The Sages removed the body, tied it to the tail of a horse and transported it to the Queen, with the words, “This is Yeshu who is said to have ascended to heaven.” Realizing that Yeshu was a false prophet who enticed the people and led them astray, she mocked the followers but praised the Sages.
Now in spite of the fact that the ancient Jews who wrote this did their best to argue for another interpretation of the life of Christ, they did make several claims here about Jesus. This passage, along with several others from the Toledot tradition, confirm: Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, healed the lame, said Isaiah foretold of His life, was worshipped as God, arrested by the Jews, beaten with rods, given vinegar to drink, wore a crown of thorns, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, was betrayed by a man named Judah Iskarioto, and had followers who claimed He was resurrected and ascended, leaving an empty tomb.
I find the sources that were hostile to Jesus to be the ones that convinced me the most. Everyone seemed to believe he had magical powers, many believed he came back from the dead, and with the countless sources of evidence, it is so difficult to deny. I hope this helps others find their own path to God.