The Historical Unreliability of Jesus: A Review of Robert VanVoorst’s Jesus Outside The New Testament
The Historical Unreliability of Jesus: A Review of Robert VanVoorst’s Jesus Outside The New Testament
by Sarah Schoonmaker
Robert VanVoorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament claims to provide evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from non-Christian historians and Jewish writings. Jesus Outside the New Testament refers to the following classical writers in order to defend the historical reliability of Jesus: Thallos, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Josephus. The purpose of this review is to address the historical writers that remain lauded as evidence for the historical Jesus and demonstrate how they all fail to bolster any historical support for Christianity.
VanVoorst points to Thallos as the earliest reference to Jesus set in the middle of the first century 55 C.E. Most of Thallos’ works perished, but was quoted by Sextus Julius Africanus, a Christian writer in his History of the World. This book was eventually lost, but the quote originating with Thallos was also mentioned by Byzantine historian, Georgius Syncellus. According to Syncellus, when Julius Africanus writes about the darkness of the death of Jesus, he mentions that, “Thallos calls this an eclipse of the sun, which seems to be wrong.”[i] Julius claims that the darkness was miraculous, “a darkness induced by God.” Even though Thallos could have mentioned the eclipse with no reference to Jesus, VanVoorst claims that it is more likely that Julius who had access to the context of Thallos’ quotation was correcting Thallos as a “hostile reference to Jesus’ death.”[ii] For instance, VanVoorst concludes, “if Thallos was simply writing about an eclipse, Julius Africanus would not have cared to say that Thallos was mistaken.”[iii]
In logic, when an argument against a particular view is offered, one mentions the claim under refutation, followed by premises and a conclusion. If Thallos were arguing against the claim that the eclipse was associated with the death of Jesus, he would have mentioned this event. However, there is no reference to Jesus, so therefore, one cannot conclude that it is even likely that Thallos was responding to a Christian claim about the “darkness induced by God” surrounding Jesus’ death. VanVoorst’s conclusion is a straw man fallacy because he creates an argument that Thallos does not claim to make. At best one may only infer that Thallos wrote about Jesus in his lost writings, but this is a massive assumption.
Pliny the Younger
As a prominent lawyer and senator in Rome, Pliny published nine books of letters between 100 and 109.[iv] He writes about punishment of Christians specifically by the Roman governor Trajan. Pliny also records that Christians would “sing hymns to Christ before dawn on a determined day and took oaths to refrain from theft, robbery, and adultery, not to break any promises, and not to withhold a deposit when reclaimed.”[v]
Pliny also tells Trajan that, “many people of all classes, ages, and regions of his province are infected by this contagious superstition.”[vi] VanVoorst credits this source fairly by claiming that Pliny’s writings do not bear independent witness to Jesus independent of Christianity. “What is related about Christ confirms two points made in the New Testament: first, Christians worship Christ in their songs (Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-20; Rev. 5:11,13), and second, no Christian reviles or curses Christ (1 Cor. 12:3). Pliny, however, shows no knowledge of Christian writings in his letter.”[vii]
Pliny bears witness to the practices of Christianity and the persecution from the government. However, he offers no contribution to the historical Jesus. As a result, he is equivalent to any other historian writing about Greek mythology. Just because a historian writes about a certain group worshipping a god or gods, this does not validate the existence of their god or gods.
The Roman writer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 70-ca. 140) practiced law in Rome and was a friend of Pliny the Younger. He published a book Lives of the Caesars, which covers the lives and careers of the first twelve emperors, from Julius Caesar to Domitian.[viii] In the fifth section of Lives of the Caesars, Suetonius reports how emperor Claudius treated several people during his reign. The quote claimed to support Jesus Christ is as follows, “He (Claudius) expelled the Jews from Rome, since they were always making disturbances because of the instigator Chrestus.”[ix]
VanVoorst claims that “Christus” often found confusion with “Chrestus,” by non-Christians. Furthermore, the Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century) spells Christian with an -“eta” in all three New Testament occurrences of the word (Acts 11:26, 26:8; 1 Pet 4:16).[x] In particular, “Christians” were also referred to as “Chrestians.” I find VanVoorst most convincing for the possibility of the connection to Jesus Christ when he claims that ‘Chrestus’ “does not appear among the hundreds of names of Jews recorded by the Roman catacomb inscriptions and other sources, yet was a familiar Gentile name. He concludes that this opens the door to the possibility that Suetonius may have confused Christus for Chrestus.”[xi] On the contrary, Bart Ehrman notes that Suetonius is probably referencing an individual “Chrestus” and Jesus’ followers, since Jesus of the Gospels was executed twenty years prior to the riots.[xii] My conclusion rests on the possibility of a reference to Jesus Christ here, however advances no farther than speculative evidence.
As a Roman historian, Tacitus is most famously known for the Annals, which covers the Roman Empire from 14-68 C.E. and includes information about the reign of Nero. He records Nero’s probable arson of Rome in order to implement his own architectural designs and how he passed the blame to Christians as a ready scapegoat. As a result of this blame, Nero heatedly persecuted Christians and Tacitus wrote the following about this, “But neither human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts, whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate.”[xiii]
Indeed, emperor Nero used Christians as a scapegoat to explain the fire, which broke out in Rome (64 A.D.). Tacitus mentions that the Christians were likely not the cause of the fire, but used the fire as an excuse to persecute Christians. The Annals do not prove that Jesus Christ existed but merely that Christians existed in the First Century A.D., which no scholar has ever disputed. Since Tacitus recorded The Annals one hundred years after Jesus’ proposed existence, this lacks historical reliability. It is important to remember that the negative evidence cited above is not “absence of evidence,” but rather “evidence of absence.” In science, negative evidence is often as important as positive evidence.
As a Jewish historian, Josephus briefly mentions Jesus two times in the Antiquities. Josephus mentions James “the brother of Jesus who is called Messiah” (Ant. 20.9.1). While Josephus does discuss many individuals with the name Jesus in the Antiquities, he does not refer to any of them as “Messiah.” I believe this is a reference to the Jesus of the Gospels since no other Jesus was associated with “Messiah” or called by its definition, “the anointed one.” While I grant this as a reference to Jesus of the Gospels, the credibility of this reference remains highly contestable.
For instance, Josephus’ other reference has him professing faith in Jesus, calling him Messiah when Josephus never became a Christian in the first place. “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
Since Christian scribes copied Josephus’ writings through the Middle Ages, it is controversial whether his references to Jesus were altered or not. While Christians quote this passage as reliable evidence to Jesus’ existence, teachings, and resurrection, these references did not show up in the writings of Josephus until centuries after his death, at the beginning of the fourth century. Thoroughly dishonest church historian Eusebius is credited as the real author. The passage is out of context, which points to text alteration. All scholars agree that Josephus, a Jew who never converted to Christianity, would not have called Jesus “the Christ” or “the truth,” so the passage must have been doctored by a later Christian–evidence, by the way, that some early believers were in the habit of altering texts to the advantage of their theological agenda. The phrase “to this day” reveals it was written at a later time. Everyone agrees there was no “tribe of Christians” during the time of Josephus–Christianity did not get off the ground until the second century.
If Jesus were truly important to history, then Josephus should have told us something about him. Yet he is completely silent about the supposed miracles and deeds of Jesus. He adds nothing to the Gospel narratives and tells us nothing that would not have been known by Christians in either the first or fourth centuries. The paragraph mentions that the divine prophets foretold Jesus, but Josephus does not tell what they said or us who those prophets were. If Jesus had truly been the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, then Josephus would have been the exact person to confirm it.
[i] VanVoorst, Robert. 2000. Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, (Grand Rapids, MI: Erdmans), 20
[ii] Ilbid, 21
[iii] Ilbid, 21
[iv] Ilbid, 23
[v] Ilbid, 25
[vi] Ilbid, 26
[vii] Ilbid, 29
[viii] Ilbid, 29
[ix] Ilbid, 30
[x] Ilbid, 31
[xi] Ilbid, 33
[xii] Ehrman, Bart. 2001. Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 58
[xiii] VanVoorst, Robert. 2000. Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI: Erdmans, 41
(Sarah Schoonmaker is completing her second BA in philosophy at the University of Colorado–Denver after receiving a BSBA in Finance from the University of Denver and an M.Div from Denver Seminary. She plans to begin a Ph.D program in the fall of 2010 to study philosophy of science, philosophy of language, logic, and epistemology. In the meantime, she researches and writes on a variety of topics covering religion, science, culture, and philosophy. For more information see: www.schoonmaker.wordpress.com.)
Please read the announcement via this link: Jesus Fraud blog announcement
And then, CLICK HERE .
The Jesus Fraud
By Joel Guttormson
The Jesus Fraud is a book I am in the process of writing. In it, I intend to show, quite definitively, that the New Testament character of Jesus Christ is a composite character that most probably did not exist in the flesh, and thus, not a historical person. I use the term “most probably” because I am open to new evidences and findings, as rational and scientifically minded people should be. Therefore, I encourage all who read this, and the eventual volume to follow, to challenge me on my points, and to check my facts and evidence. It should be observed, that if no objection or refutation can be brought against my arguments, points, and evidence that would cause such a degree of reasonable doubt as to reconsider the position completely, then it should stand as the most likely account of the character of Jesus Christ. I intend to take into consideration those objections that deal merely with faith, and faith alone. Further, I intend to take into consideration the evidence that is claimed to exist for Jesus Christ’s historicity. I then intend to show the evidence against the historicity of Jesus Christ and that this evidence is not only abundant but also compelling. The intention of this abstract and info table is to engage in discussion those that disagree with me and to find further objections to my position as part of the research for this volume. Thus, herein my contact information has been made available at the conclusion of this abstract.
Argument 1: Jesus is a composite
It can be demonstrated that the myth and accompanying story of a dying-rising savior demigod is abundant in ancient societies throughout history and that Jesus fits the subsequent archetype of those stories that preceded ‘him’. Some of the civilizations that had this type of god included in their myths include, the Egyptians, Persians/Romans, Greeks, and Indians (India). From Egypt, we have Horus. The story of Horus is the oldest recorded story of a dying-rising savior, dating to around 3000BC. A summary of the Horus story is as follows: “Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis-Meri . His birth was accompanied by a star in the east, which in turn, three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born savior. At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher, and at the age of 30, he was baptized by a figure known as Anup and thus began his ministry. Horus had 12 disciples he traveled about with, performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water. Horus was known by many gestural names such as The Truth, The Light, God’s Anointed Son, The Good Shepherd, The Lamb of God, and many others. After being betrayed by Typhon, Horus was crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected1 ”. From Persia, and later taken up by the Romans, we have Mithras (Mythra) dating to 1200BC. The story of Mithras is as follows: “born of a virgin on December 25th, he had 12 disciples and performed miracles, and upon his death was buried for 3 days and thus resurrected, he was also referred to as “The Truth,” “The Light,” and many others. Interestingly, the sacred day of worship of Mithras was Sunday1”. From Greece we have Dionysus dating to 500BC, whose story is as follows: “born of a virgin on December 25th, was a traveling teacher who performed miracles such as turning water into wine, he was referred to as the “King of Kings,” “God’s Only Begotten Son,” “The Alpha and Omega,” and many others, and upon his death, he was resurrected1”. Finally, from India, we have Krishna dated to 900BC, but the legend may be older, whose story is as follows: “born of the virgin Devaki with a star in the east signaling his coming, performed miracles with his disciples, and upon his death was resurrected1”. One will be quick to notice a few themes or details that run through all of these characters. Let us now compare these to the story of Jesus, first written no earlier than 70AD: “Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary on December 25th in Bethlehem, his birth was announced by a star in the east, which three kings or magi followed to locate and adorn the new savior. He was a child teacher at 12, at the age of 30 he was baptized by John the Baptist, and thus began his ministry. Jesus had 12 disciples which he traveled about with performing miracles such as healing the sick, walking on water, raising the dead, he was also known as the “King of Kings,” the “Son of God,” the “Light of the World,” the “Alpha and Omega,” the “Lamb of God,” and many others. After being betrayed by his disciple Judas and sold for 30 pieces of silver, he was crucified, placed in a tomb and after 3 days was resurrected and ascended into Heaven1”. There is something in literature that is referred to as Lord Raglan’s Hero Pattern. It is a list of attributes, taken from the story of Oedipus, and is as follows: “1. Hero’s mother is a royal virgin; 2. His father is a king, and 3. Often a near relative of his mother, but 4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and 5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god. 6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather to kill him, but 7. He is spirited away, and 8. Reared by foster -parents in a far country. 9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but 10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom. 11. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast, 12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
13. And becomes king. 14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and 15. Prescribes laws, but
16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and 17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which 18. He meets with a mysterious death, 19. Often at the top of a hill, 20. His children, if any do not succeed him. 21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless 22. He has one or more holy sepulchres2”. Jesus gets 18/223 or 81%. Here it is sufficient to suspect this section by adding only that it is obvious that character of Jesus was not unique but may have originated independently, even by first century standards and thus, it is more likely that these characteristics were not inspired by a figure named Jesus.
Argument 2: Jesus is the SUN of god
From above, and from experience with Christianity, Jesus Christ is the supposed Son of God. The reality however, may be that he is not the Son of God but rather the Sun of God. I shall elaborate. “The cross of the Zodiac [is] one of the oldest conceptual images in human history. It reflects the sun as it figuratively passes through the 12 major constellations over the course of a year. It also reflects the 12 months of the year, the 4 seasons, and the solstices and equinoxes. The term Zodiac relates to the fact that constellations were anthropomorphized, or personified, as figures, or animals1.” The sun, in the cross of the Zodiac is in the middle of the cross, and as it travels with the 12 constellations through the months of the year, something strange happens around the time of the Winter Solstice. “The shortening of the days and the expiration of the crops when approaching the winter solstice symbolized the process of death to the ancients. It was the death of the Sun. By December 22nd, the Sun’s demise was fully realized, for the Sun, having moved south continually for 6 months, makes it to its lowest point in the sky. Here a curious thing occurs: the Sun stops moving south, at least perceivably, for 3 days. During this 3-day pause, the Sun resides in the vicinity of the Southern Cross, or Crux, constellation. In addition, after this time on December 25th, the Sun moves 1 degree, this time north, foreshadowing longer days, warmth, and Spring. And thus it was said: the Sun died on the cross, was dead for 3 days, only to be resurrected or born again1”. Here I would like to comment about the Southern Cross constellation. During this time the sun was cruxified, thus giving us, crucified. After which the sun dies, and rises after 3 days. Furthermore, it can be shown that the birth sequence is entirely due to astrology. Let us look at the main attributes of the Jesus story. First, we have Mary, the Virgin; next, we have the three kings or Magi that follow the Star in the East to locate and adorn the newborn savior. The astrology of this story is as follows: Mary is the constellation Virgo, alternatively known as Virgo the Virgin, Virgo in Latin means Virgin. Virgo is often referred to as the House of Bread, depicted by a Virgin holding a sheaf of wheat. Bethlehem in Hebrew literally translates to “House of Bread”. Thus, “Bethlehem is a reference to a place in the sky, not on Earth1”. Now, the three bright stars that comprise Orion’s Belt are called the Three Kings; the star in the east is Sirius, the brightest eastern star. On December 24th, the three stars of Orion’s Belt line up with the brightest star in the east, Sirius[TW11] . However, stars never change their position relative to one another, this arrangement results in the line-up of stars pointing to the site of the sunrise on December 25th. This is why the three kings follow the star in the east to find the sunrise, or, the birth of the sun. This is the reason that all the savior gods enumerated in Argument 1 have identical birth sequences. Now, what about the rising part? “[T]hey did not celebrate the resurrection of the Sun until the spring equinox, or Easter. This is because at the spring equinox, the Sun officially overpowers the evil darkness, as daytime thereafter becomes longer in duration than night, and the revitalizing conditions of spring emerge1”. Finally, there are things said, by Jesus, and elements in stories in the New Testament which point, not to a begotten Son of God, but rather an allegorical, anthropomorphized figure. For instance, when Jesus is said to feed the multitudes in Matt 14:17, he supposedly does so using two fish. The symbolism of the two fish is taken directly from the Zodiac. Pisces, or Pisces the Two Fish, is the age in which Jesus was supposed to have been born. To show this, we need only look to the New Testament again. Luke 22:8-10 “Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.’ ‘ Where do you want us to prepare for it?’ they asked. He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you3”. Jesus, supposedly, is referring to the Age of Aquarius, represented as “The Water Bearer”, and as it happens, the Age of Aquarius immediately follows the Age of Pisces, starting around the year 2150AD1. Thus, it is easy to see that Jesus may be the Sun, but not the Son.
Argument 3: Lack of contemporary evidence
The final argument I shall present herein deals with the yet undeniable fact that there is not a shred of convincing documented evidence outside of the New Testament of the existence of Jesus Christ. Specifically, I am speaking of the Romans, who recorded nearly everything during their time in power. They were systematic and meticulous. Among the things that the Bible mentions that the Roman historians do not, is the slaughter of the innocence, also known as the flight to Egypt. It should also be noted about that particular tale, this it is taken directly from the book of Exodus. I shall now furnish a list to the reader of just the Roman historians that had an opportunity to write down an account of Jesus, if he existed. (The dates and number of historians is larger than it should be because I am giving the other side the benefit of the doubt.) Alus Perseus (60AD), Columella (1st Cent. AD), Dior Chrysostom (c. 40-c.112AD), Justus of Tiberius (c. 80AD), Livy (59BC-17AD), Lucan us (63AD), Locus Flours (1st-2nd Cent. AD), Petronius (d. 66AD), Phaedrus (20BC-50AD), Philemon (1st Cent. AD), Pliny the Elder (23?-69AD), Plutarch (c. 46-c.119AD), Pomponius Mela (40AD), Rufus Curtius (1st Cent. AD), Quintilian (c.35-c.100AD), Quintus Curtius (1st Cent. AD), Seneca (46?BC-65AD), Sillies Italics (c.25-101AD), Statius Calicoes (1st Cent. AD), Then of Smyrna (c.70-c.135AD), Galerius Floccus (1st Cent. AD), Galerius Maximums (c.20AD ). Again, the above make only the vaguest references Christ. Since Christ is nothing more than a title, in Greek Christ means “the anointed one”, and does not necessarily refer to Jesus. This brings us to the highly touted, Josephus Flavius. This Jewish historian was not even born until 37AD. Like some of the historians above, he lived when he could have recorded heresy, but did not. Josephus recorded events, many events, which are verifiable and verified. The passage that is cited by Christians as being written by him has in doubt and appears to be interpolation by later Christians such as Eusebius4”. Thus, there is most likely, no verifiable evidence of Jesus’ existence.
Conclusion of Summary
To conclude this summary, I need only offer the opportunity for those claiming Jesus to exist to falsify the information contained within this summary. As I continue my research on this topic, opposing theories and views can only help me, as it will expand my view and perspective on the subject. My contact info is listed below so you may continue to share your views with me if you wish. I would like to thank you for reading this and taking the time to engage in conversation on this topic. (As a matter of completeness, the bibliography contained herein does not reflect the totality of sources I shall be utilizing for the volume to follow.)
4. “Eusebian fabrications: the Testimonium Flavianum” Ken Olson. July 29, 2000.
3. International Bible Society. Bible Gateway. 27 April 2008. 27 April 2008 <http://www.biblegateway.com/>.
2. Sienkewicz, Professor Thomas J. Lord Raglan’s Hero Pattern. 31 August 2008 <http://department.monm.edu/classics/courses/clas230/mythdocuments/heropattern/default.htm>.
1. The Zeitgeist Movie. n.d