A kind reader asked about evidence of the actual existence of Jesus of Nazareth. The question is timely because in Science there are no "authorities" on a subject; at most there are specialists. What determine whether something is real or not are always the objective data, and not the researchers. So, let us quote some documents and then you draw your own conclusions.
The oldest copy of the New Testament in its complete version is the "Codex Sinaiticus", a Bible in Greek dating from between 300 and 350 of our Common Era. Today it survives separated into several pieces: there are 347 leaves in the British Library in London, 43 leaves in the Library of the University of Leipzig in Germany, 12 leaves and 14 fragments in the monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, Egypt, and fragments of 3 leaves at the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg.
In the year 248 C.E. one of the "Fathers of the Church", named Origen, published the text "Contra Celsum" where he refuted criticisms to Christianity by the Roman Celsus the Platonist in the year 177.
At the University of Michigan and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland, are kept separate parts of a papyrus known as "Papyrus 46", which are nothing less than the oldest known copies of the Letters of St. Paul. They are from the year 200 C.E..
At the University of Oxford the oldest fragment of the Gospel of Matthew, dated from 200 C.E., is guarded. The few lines correspond to chapter 26, verse 23 and verse 31.
In his book "Death of the pilgrim" the satyr Lucian mocks Christian beliefs. This author died no later than the year 180 C.E..
The oldest known fragment of the New Testament was discovered in Egypt in 1920. Just cm in size, it belongs to the Gospel of John: it has verses 31 to 33 of chapter 18 on one side, and verses 37 and 38 on the other. It is stored in the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester and is dated as being from the second century, probably between 125 and 160 C.E..
There are also Christian texts that do not belong to the Bible, such as those of Justin Martyr, who wrote important apologetics texts trying to spread Christianity. This author died no later than 165 C.E..
The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, in his "Annals", Book 15, Chapter 44, written in the year 116 C.E., made the famous reference that Nero blamed the burning of Rome in the year 64 to "a class hated for their abominations, called Christians" and began a persecution.
Very important from a historical point of view are seven letters of Ignatius of Antioch, who died in 107 and was apparently a disciple of the Apostle John.
In the year 93, the Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus published his work "Antiquities of the Jews." In Book 20, Chapter 9, he reports that in the year 62 the high priests ordered the stoning of a follower of Jesus, "for breaking the law." There is another passage about Jesus in Book 18, Chapter 3, but its authenticity is controversial, because apparently it was edited by anonymous hands to praise the figure of the Nazarene and call him "the Christ."
Comparing certain details of the contents of the Gospels with details from many historical sources, such as data of the actual existence of Pontius Pilatus and the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., it is estimated that the Gospel of John was originally written between 90 and 100 C.E., the Gospel of Matthew between 70 and 100, the Gospel of Luke between 50 and 100, and the likely first of all and foundation for the others, the Gospel of Mark, between 60 and 70 C.E.. These dates indicate that, even if the actual authors would not have personally met Jesus of Nazareth, very likely they met and interviewed his direct disciples.
But the Gospels (alleged biographies of Jesus) were not the earliest texts of Christianity; rather, earlier than these were the texts of one of those responsible for the expansion of his teachings into a huge religion: Saul of Tarsus, or Saint Paul. It is considered that at least the Letters to the Romans, both Letters to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Galatians indeed were truly written by this mentioned persecutor and then colleague of Simon Peter and other disciples of Jesus. These letters have been originally sent between 48 and 68 C.E..
THE HUNT FOR THE ULTIMATE "PROOF"
A few years ago appeared a documentary that purports to demonstrate that the bones of Jesus of Nazareth were found. If it is a fiction film, is very good. If it intends to be a documentary, I found it mediocre. If they believe they are doing scientific work, it seemed to me dreadful. Despite that, the idea is interesting. If Jesus of Nazareth existed as a historical figure it is expected to be buried somewhere, as Confucius or Winston Churchill. But the search for such a tremendous grave is not easy at all.
If it is a fiction film, the alluded footage is in the same line of "The Da Vinci Code," which uses a handful of scientific and historical data to give an air of credibility to a story, which remains a figment of the imagination. Just as Stanley Kubrick did, that in order to film "2001: A Space Odyssey" was careful enough to reproduce the weightlessness in space, the lunar landscape, silent explosions in the vacuum, the propulsion system of the ships, the delay of communications at astronomical distances, etc., all scientifically correct, but without let up being the monumental stage scenery of a fictional drama.
In the case of the documentary about the tomb of Jesus, the scenery are different interviews with scholars from Harvard, electron microscopy analysis, DNA testing, experts in ancient calligraphy, etc., all suggesting that the story is possible. But the only one who concludes that the ossuary of Jesus of Nazareth has been found is the filmmaker. The point is that nothing prevents that someday the "The Da Vinci Code" or "A Space Odyssey" really end up happening, but that does not mean they are likely.
I think that if the making of an actual documentary would have been attempted, the theory should not have been launched prior of everything and then see if there is any specialist that supports it. A humble approach to scientists should had been taken place and these should had been asked what they are working on. If someone had communicated "in the possible ossuary of Jesus of Nazareth," then permission to film their research should had been asked. It should have been left up to the scientists to guide the drama, and not sought prominence and stardom. In my humble opinion, a documentarist should be a mere witness to History.
But there was a desire to lead the investigation, and by not being a scientist, and by seemingly not understanding much of the Scientific Method, what happened happened: an idea had arisen and every possible thing to PROVE that the idea was correct was done. That is NOT how scientists work: scientists have an idea and then do every possible thing TO KNOW WHETHER this idea is correct or not. Maybe it is, maybe it is not, but the goal is not to get the answer being yes or being no, but to know which of the two alternatives is true, no matter which one.
One little warning: if it is sought by all means to prove that any of the aspects of a theory is wrong, but that is not achieved, then the theory has not been broken down. But that does not mean that in the future it would not appear some evidence that will break it down. As the maxim goes in Science, the evidences presented have been some of the necessary ones but not all of the sufficient ones.
Now, back to the core of the matter: Science has no religion, so it pretends that everything is natural and there is nothing supernatural. The natural thing is that, if he existed, the bones of a first-century Jew are somewhere. But where? One problem is that Jesus did not die as a great king, but as a criminal. Some explain that it was customary to throw the bodies of those condemned to a large landfill near Jerusalem. Or it may be in the tomb of the priest Joseph of Arimathea, to this day. It may have been stolen, as someone suggested in the Bible itself. Or it is in an unmarked grave, as happened with Mozart. Maybe it will never be found, or maybe it will. I do not know if there are archaeologists who are looking for it. Anyway, I doubt very much that it would be in a movie film that such a discovery would be announced.
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Originally published in ABC Color, in two installments, between 30 April 2007 and 11 May 2007. Painting: "Noli me tangere" ("Do not touch me"), by Hans Holbein the Younger, ca. 1527, oil on oak, 76,7 cm x 95,8 cm, Royal Collection, Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, United Kingdom. The scene is described in John 19:41 to 20:18; confer Song of Songs 3:1-4. The title of the work is pronounced in John 20:17a, a possible reference to Numbers 19:16. The vessel with aromatic preparations which Mary Magdalene brings to process the body of her Teacher, as approved (according to tradition) in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1 -8, contradicts Jesus' reaction at this point, however. The explanation is that John (19:38-40) and Matthew (28:1b) contradict Luke (23:50-24:1) and Mark (16:1): by mixing the four stories, the picture is contradictory. In academic circles this scene is known as "The problem of the empty tomb", a term that arises from the fact that Mark, theoretically the first synoptic gospel written and foundation for the others, originally ended at verse 8 of chapter 16 (as witnessed by Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, the Syriac Sinaitic palimpsest, much of the Armenian Manuscripts, the Canons of Eusebius, etc.). The next verse, the number 9, which puts forward for the first time the issue of an apparition of Jesus of Nazareth to Mary Magdalene (without even specifying where or under what circumstances), as well as the subsequent verses, with their multiple and conflicting historical variants, were added later by other scribes. One explanation for this apocryphal action was "vox populi" among the Jews of the time, as evidenced in Matthew 28:11-15. If so, the psychological suffering of Mary, called Magdalene, whom Jesus healed of "seven devils", would have had no end. Credit: Hans Holbein the Younger, via The Royal Collection Trust, available at http://www.royalcollection.org.uk. Photography Copyright © 2013 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. All rights reserved. This image file is hosted in computer servers of The Royal Collection Trust, http://www.royalcollection.org.uk. Reproduction prohibited. Special thanks to Daniel Bell for this courtesy.