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Did Jesus Really Live?:

Was Y'shua An Historic Person?

By Shlomo Phillips © October 26, 2014

If we accept the essential New Testament account of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth we find that the historic Y'shua ben Yosef would have been a man of no real social importance during his lifetime.

According to the Four Gospels he was questioned by the rabbis (i.e. the Parush or Pharisee leaders) and the Tz'dukim (i.e. Sadducees, now known as Karaism) to ascertain the truth of his suggested reforms. Based on Torah and Halacha his reforms were rejected by both sects. He then, according to the New Testament, committed serious lashon hara against them, as described at Matthew 23 and elsewhere. Having no standing with the rabbis (arguably other than Nicodemus who was afraid to admit his belief: John 7:50), leading no significant Jewish movement at the time, he lived, taught, and was executed as a criminal by the Romans. According to the New Testament he was an unaffiliated itinerant rabbi who was rejected by the rabbinate. Doctrinally he was rabbinic but maintained some uncertain ties to the Essene Brotherhood at al-Eizariya (Bethany). Such a person would not have been mentioned by the scholars of the day and so their lack of mentioning him is not evidence against his existence. The Jesus story believed by the Christian world is quite different from what even the New Testament teaches.

Y'shua's reform movement consisted of a handful of teenagers and some curious commoners until after his execution, when the charismatic Saul/Paul entered stage right. Were it not for Paul we probably would never have heard of Y'shua of Nazareth, just like most people have never heard of Athronges, Menahem ben Judah, nor the many other failed messiahs of that period. Paul's rabbinic credentials as a disciple of Rabbi Gamaliel, coupled with his missionary zeal under persecution, is what lead to the explosion of the Jewish sect that, 200 years later, was formally usurped by Emperor Constantine to create the Christian religion. It was at this time that the Way sect was formally divorced from Judaism.

According to one new book that is typical of the present anti-Christian movement, the author states:

Jesus is lauded as a wise teacher, savior, and a perfect being. Yet Jesus believed in Noah's Ark (Mt 24:37, and Lk 17:27), Adam and Eve and their son Abel (Lk 3:38 and Lk 11:51), Jonah living in a fish or whale (Mt 12:40), and Lot's wife turning into salt (Lk 17:31-32). Jesus believed "devils" caused illness, and even bought into the OT notion (Jn 3:14) that a magical pole proffered by the OT (Num 21:9) could cure snakebites merely by gazing upon it.
So do I, maybe I don't exist either? According to the Four Gospels Y'shua believed Torah. That's a problem? Religious Jews believe these things. Our understandings or interpretations of the accounts may vary, but such beliefs only link the historic Y'shua to Rabbinic Judaism.

Again the author chides the claim that:

... his words going "unto the ends of the whole world" (Rom 10)...

Of course they did! After the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE Jews (including the original sect members) were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire (which was considered to be "the whole world"). By the second century the increasingly heretical sect was spreading throughout the Empire. This does not mean it was the sect established by Y'shua, it wasn't, but it was spreading.

There are an increasing number of hit pieces and books against Christians and Jesus. Sadly few of them base their objections on reality: By the third century the Way sect had been severed from Judaism and from Torah. This had nothing directly to do with its founders. They would doubtless be appalled to see what became of their reform movement. The truth is, the Roman Pagans stole Judea and Samaria, they destroyed our Holy Temple, they scattered the Jews, and they usurped the Jesus story making the historic Y'shua one of the most misrepresented, slandered, and hated Jews in history. The price of committing lashon hara is very high!

Loshon hora (lit., evil talk) is defined as information which is either derogatory or potentially harmful to another individual. A derogatory statement about someone is loshon hora, even if will definitively not cause that person any harm. To focus on the shortcomings of another person is in itself wrong. A statement that could potentially bring harm to someone -- be it financial, physical, psychological or otherwise -- is loshon hora, even if the information is not negative. (It should be noted that the term lashon hara refers even to true statements which are derogatory or harmful. Negative statements that are untrue or inaccurate are termed hotzaas shem ra, slander -- Sefer Chofetz Chaim page 50.)

It is true, according to my research, that there is no solid evidence that Y'shua lived, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence:

For instance there is no evidence of direct Roman usurpation of the sect prior to Constantine (they used persecution not conciliation in their attempt to stop the sect), however there is plenty of historic evidence that people believed in Y'shua and regarded him as their rabbi/teacher well before the creation of Christianity in the 300's. With the scant communication options available at that time how could far flung parts of the Roman Empire all embrace the notion of a reform Jewish rabbi with a message for the world so quickly if he did not exist? How could so many rival Way/Nazarene sects like the various Gnostic groups condemned by John (ex. I John 4:3), like the Roman Nicolaitan sect (Revelation 2:9, 3:9), like the sects claiming to follow different disciples (I Corinthians 1:10-14), like the Paulist followers, like the followers of James (which seems to have been original Way sect), etc all emerge so quickly? Who invented the original myth? Who could have spread such a lie and deceived so many people if there was no historic Y'shua? Before disregarding these points consider that the Way sect desperately wanted unity. Their acknowledgement that the sect was dangerously splintering into Paganism and Gnosticism itself testifies to the truth of the Y'shua's existence. It also explains how the sect finally fell into Nicolaitan Paganism and ceased to exist.

The infighting strongly supports the existence of Y'shua as an historic figure whose message ultimately failed and yet touched the hearts of many people. We have seen many groups begun by many well-meaning people splinter in just this way.

There is some objective evidence, although as stated above there really is no reason why we would expect to find any references to him from his lifetime. Everything on this subject is debated of course, however the following points seem pretty solid from my research.

Josephus lived 37-100 CE and has two references to him in Antiquities of the Jews, books 18 and 20. Some scholars doubt the Josephus reference in Book 20 of his Antiquities of the Jews. I do not, in part because had later Christian editors added it they would not have hidden so deeply within the work and surely would have added much more in my opinion.

There is also Tacitus circa A.D. 64 CE who wrote: Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus -- The Annals of Tacitus, Book 15.44

There is also the ossuary of James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus dating from AD 63. Despite the ongoing debate its authenticity is accepted by a lot of archeologists.

And there is evidence from Pliny the Younger (lived 61-112 CE), the Roman governor of Bithynia-Pontus (now known as Turkey). Pliny the Younger sent this letter to Emperor Trajan around 112 CE requesting advise on dealing with the Christian sect. At this early point most of those involved would still have considered themselves to be a Jewish sect. The letter (Epistulae X.96) details how Pliny conducted trials of suspected Nazarene Jews appearing before him. Their only stated crime was refusing to worship the Roman gods (based on the Early Christian Church Volume 1 by Philip Carrington; Pagan Rome and the Early Christians by Stephen Benko).

The greatest evidence for the historicity of his humanity however is that it united a huge number of people and absolutely infuriated a huge different group of people while leaving multitudes affected.

Religious truth is not like secular truth. Religious truth, regardless of the religion, requires a degree of faith. The existence of God Himself is based on circumstantial evidence and faith. No one can "prove" His existence and yet for the faithful of all religions His existence is a certainty. Religion is not like the secular sciences.

In my opinion the case for Jesus' historicity is greater than the case against it. Neither position can be "proven" nor "disproved." Those seeking to discredit his existence do so from their biases just as those who support his humanity do so from theirs.

As Y'shua said: Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22).

The Original Followers of Jesus Vanished Just As Rabbi Gamaliel Predicted


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