Jesus is a Myth based on the founder of the Essenes.


Frankly, I was surprised to learn that Fields thinks Jesus is a myth based on the founder of the Essenes.  Of course, he did not mention the specific ancient scroll upon which he bases his allegation. In addition, he does not mention any evidence to the contrary.

Therefore, I will summarize evidence that Jesus is not a myth from references external to the Bible, and then will examine the Dead Sea Scrolls that are purported to have similarities with the gospels.

EVIDENCE FROM EARLY GENTILE WRITINGS

THALLUS--52 AD


According to F F Bruce,1 Thallus wrote in about 52 AD, but we know of his works only through Julius Africanus who wrote in about 221 AD.  Africanus describes a comment Thallus had made concerning the darkness that fell upon the land at the time of the crucifixion of Christ:

Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun--unreasonably, it seems to me.
Bruce clarifies by adding, "...unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of a full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died."

Bruce aptly states the significance of this reference:

From this reference in Julius Africanus it has been inferred (a) that the gospel tradition, or at least the traditional story of the passion, was known in Rome in non-Christian circles towards the middle of the first century; and (b) that the enemies of Christianity tried to refute this Christian tradition by giving a naturalistic interpretation to the facts which it reported.

MARA BAR-SERAPION--73 AD


Mara Bar-Serapion, while in prison, wrote to encourage his son, and sited the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Christ:

What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death?  Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime.  What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras?  In a moment their land was covered with sand.  What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King?  It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished.  God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, lived in complete dispersion.  But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato.  Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera.  Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which he had given.

Bruce points out that Mara Bar-Serapion could not have been a Christian, or he would have said that Christ was raised from the dead.

CORNELIUS TACITUS--112 AD


Tacitus was the greatest Roman historian in the days of the Empire.  In approximately 112 AD, when Tacitus was approximately 60 years old, he was writing the history of the reign of Nero (54-68 AD), and he described who started the great fire in Rome in 64 AD in this manner:

Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with  the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowds styled Christians.  Christus, from whom they got their name, had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was Emperor; and the pernicious superstition was checked for a short time, only to break out afresh, not only in Judea, the home of the plague, but in Rome itself, where all the horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home.

EVIDENCE FROM EARLY JEWISH WRITERS

RABBINICAL WRITINGS


Bruce2 comments as follows on the Mishnah:

As the Mishnah is a law-code, and the Talmuds commentaries on this code, there is little occasion in these writings for references to Christianity, and what references there are are hostile.  But, such as they are, these references do at least show that there was not the slightest doubt of the historical character of Jesus.

According to the earliest Rabbis whose opinions are recorded in these writings, Jesus of Nazareth was a transgressor in Israel, who practised magic, scorned the words of the wise, led the people astray, and said he had not come to destroy the law but to add to it.  He was hanged on Passover Eve for heresy and misleading the people.  His disciples, of whom five are named, healed the sick in his name.

JOSEPHUS


Josephus, born in 37 AD, was a Jewish historian in favor with Rome.  He was a prolific writer, and made multiple references to many historical people of that time.  In his Antiquities, (xx.9.1), Josephus mentions Christ:

But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown.  As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as 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.

The phrase, "Jesus the so-called Christ" implied, according the Bruce, that there had been a prior reference to Jesus in Josephus' writings.  There is indeed another reference earlier in Josephus' Antiquities xviii.3.3, but at least some of this reference to Jesus is  regarded as an interpolation by some scholars since Josephus was not a Christian.  However, we have no other document of Antiquities that gives any other reading.  The entry is as follows:

And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvellous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure.  He led away many Jews, and also many Greeks.  This man was the Christ.  And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at first did not cease; for he appeared to them on the third day alive, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him: and even now the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out.

The text marked in italics indicates the suspected interpolation.  However, many scholars accept the entry as it is since there is no other different text in any other copy of Antiquities.  However, Bruce and other biblical scholars think that some Greek characters and words have been dropped out, and suggest the following:

And there arose about this time a source of new troubles, one Jesus, a wise man.  He was a doer of marvellous deeds, a teacher of men who receive strange things with pleasure.  He led away many Jews, and also many of the Greeks.  This man was the so-called Christ.  And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at first did not cease; for he appeared to them, as they said, on the third day alive again, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him: and even now the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out.

Summarizing the evidence from Josephus, Bruce said this:

We have therefore very good reason for believing that Josephus did make reference to Jesus, bearing witness to (a) His date, (b) His reputation as a wonder-worker, (c) His being the brother of James, (d) His crucifixion under Pilate at the information of the Jewish rulers, (e) His messianic claim, (f) His being the founder of 'the tribe of Christians,' and probably (g) the belief in His rising from the dead.

Bruce, after citing other references regarding early Christianity, sums up this evidence from early Jewish and Gentile writers:

Whatever else may be thought of the evidence from early Jewish and Gentile writers, as summarized in this chapter and the preceding one, it does at least establish, for those who refuse the witness of Christian writings, the historical character of Jesus Himself.  Some writers may toy with the fancy of a 'Christ-myth,' but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence.  The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar.  It is not historians who propagate the 'Christ-myth' theories.

Therefore, it should be clear that a historical Jesus really lived among us.  We can establish with certainty from early non-Christian sources that this historical Jesus had a ministry characterized by wonderful works, was tried before Pontius Pilate, was crucified, was said to have appeared to his disciples after death, and his disciples healed the sick in his name.  There is no historical evidence that Jesus Christ was a myth.

Now on the next page we will explore the Dead Sea scrolls that purportedly relate to the gospels to see if Fields' allegations have any actual substance.


ENDNOTES:
  1. Bruce, F F. The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?  William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grad Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK, © 1943, 1946, 1950, 1960, 1981, pp 116-123.
  2. Bruce, ibid, pp 102-115.