Jesus is No Myth

Dedicated to promoting the idea that the Biblical Jesus Christ was a historical character.

The Myth

Fixing people and events in history

People who truly lived in the history of the world leave revealing evidence that places them in a particular historical context. This is especially true of famous persons. From the age in which they lived clues remain that confirm the person’s existence, and place them in the proper time. This section examines evidence supporting the reality of the life of Jesus Christ, and shows how it places Him in history.

Chronology is the science of determining the true periods, or years, when past events took place. Chronology attempts to arrange the events into their proper order according to their dates. Arranging events in proper order is a major problem in ancient and medieval history because years were commonly identified by association with a public figure, such as a ruler’s name that appears on a kings list.

In ancient times many people reckoned occurrences by counting the lunar months. The length of the lunar month was 30 days. The lunar year was short, and required frequent correction. Some societies measured the onset of the different seasons by observing the Sun. There was no universal, continuous calendar by which to fix an event in history, or to predict the coming of a familiar day. Such a calendar is an era calendar, as we use today. To fix an event in time they referred to kings, or to high priests, and sometimes to catastrophes. For example, in the Gospel of Luke the Scripture says, referring to the coming of John the Baptist,

 Luke 3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. 

By his references, Luke fixed as precisely as he could the advent of John the Baptist. To know when John lived, historians can refer to the years of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the coinciding governorship of Pontius Pilate, and the kingship of Herod. To know when John came preaching in the wilderness, a person would search for the occurrence of a time when two men shared the status of the high priesthood in Israel. Luke says that was when John came.

It is interesting to note that John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth, thus placing them together at the same place and at the same time.

The job of the chronicler of history is to compile a record of events that have taken place during the existence of the world. A chronicler does not attempt to interpret an event, only to establish the fact of it. Although no calendar exists which was commonly used by all the known civilizations, yet historians have tools that enable them to fix ancient chronologies with enough precision to say that a person actually lived, or that he lived during a certain period. For example, it would be impossible to prove that Julius Caesar did not exist in the time indicated by the history books. There is ample evidence to prove that he did live at the time indicated and in the Rome over which he was the ruler.

Review

Fill in the blank

1. The purpose of this section is to prove that Jesus of Nazareth is a man of  ______________.

2.  ______________________ is the science of determining the true periods, or years, when past events took place.

3. The _______________ month is a month of 30 days. A lunar _______________ requires frequent correction.

4. The type of calendar we use today is called an  ___________ calendar.

5. To fix an event in time ancient people referred to _____________, or to ___________   ____________ and sometimes to   ___________________.

6. Name at least three people to whom Luke refers when he fixes the birth of John the Baptist.   _______________   ______________________,  ______________________________,  ______________________.

7. Jesus was baptized by _____________ ________ ___________________.

8. John’s __________________ of Jesus place them together at the same time.  

TRUE/FALSE

1. (T  or  F)   The first book of the Bible includes a calendar.

2. (T  or  F)   When the word of God came to John the Baptist two men shared the high priesthood in Israel.

3. (T  or  F)   A fact is a thing done; it is a thing that had actual existence or reality.

4. (T  or  F)   It is a fact that John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth.

5. (T  or  F)   There is no evidence to prove that Julius Caesar actually lived.

The Myth

Definition of the Myth

Demeter is a mythical character, and the tales told about her follow all the rules of the myth. The Greeks used a mythical story about her to explain the seasons.  

The Greeks believed that Demeter, the earth-goddess of corn, harvest and fruitfulness, had a daughter by Zeus whose name was Persephone. Hades, the ruler of the underworld, stole Persephone and took her to the underworld. Hades tricked her into eating four pomegranate seeds, and for this reason Persephone had to remain in Hades for at least four months of the year. During this time the Homeric Hymn says that Demeter is in anguish over the loss of her daughter, and so lays waste the earth. But when Persephone returns to earth Demeter makes the earth fruitful again, and causes the flowers to bloom.

As with the myth of Demeter, other myths have the following characteristics:

  • Myths tell about extraordinary people or events.
  • Myths deal with gods or super humans.
  • Frequently, mythical characters are described as monstrous, or a combination of animal and man. The centaur, the Gorgons, or Pegasus the winged horse are examples.
  •  Myths originate before (or outside of) written history. The myth is generally complete by the time written history includes them, or takes note of them.
  • Myths take generations, or centuries, to develop.
  •  Myths typically give no dates, or no references that may be used to determine a date.
  • Myths reflect the culture, or race in which they originate.(Anthropologists will tell you that myths are accepted as decisive truth in the cultures where the myth prevails.)

Review

1. Myths deal with  ________ or ___________ ______________. 

2. Myths originate before, or outside of,  ________________ ________________.

3. Myths reflect the  _____________ , or  ________________ in which they originate.

Questions

1. Do the events in a myth occur as actual historical events?

2. Is it possible to verify the existence of the places, people, or creatures in a myth?

3. According to anthropologists are myths usually accepted as truth in the cultures where they originate?

Use Of The Term “myth”

The dictionary says a myth is a parable or an allegory; it is a story having an imaginary source; it is a story whose main character may or may not have existed.

In most cases people think a myth is a story that has grown much in the telling. In ordinary conversation, a myth is a story that is either fanciful, or downright false. People not devoted to “scholarly” work commonly use the word “myth” to mean a “fairy tale,” or a “fable.” To them there is an important distinction between a myth and a factual report. 

There are also people who would say that the distinction between a myth and a factual report is unimportant when dealing with heroic national characters, or even with religious characters. At the University of South Florida there was a Senior Seminar teacher who said, “Myths can be true, can’t they?” Perhaps some people would believe a myth to be true, but most people would answer, “No. A myth is not true.” And there is an important distinction between a myth and a factual report—one is fantasy, and the other is reality. 

Review

1. The word myth is commonly used to mean a  __________  ____________  or a _________ .

2. In ordinary usage a myth is a story that is either ________________ ,  or downright ______________.

3. A myth is a story having an ____________________  source.

4. When a person applies the term “myth” to a religious character, such as Jesus, the listener is influenced to believe Jesus never really _______________.

Questions

1. In general usage, is a myth believed to be true?

2. Is there a distinction between a myth, and a factual report?

3. Does a myth have objective reality? Did it ever?

The Birth of Jesus Compared to the Myth

The chronology of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is given with a precision equal to any other character in his time, and in many cases his life is described with much greater precision. For example, in the Gospel of Luke it says,

  Luke 2:1 “Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census should be taken in all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Notice the number of historical persons who are named by Luke: The Roman Caesar was Augustus who lived from BC 63 to AD 14. He was the first Roman emperor, and was grand-nephew to Julius Caesar. Historians report that he imposed the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) on the civilized world. The governor of Syria was Quirinius. Luke gives the landmarks: Syria, Galilee, Nazareth, Judea, and Bethlehem. He names the parents of Jesus: Joseph and Mary. Not only does he give the names, but also he says they are enrolled in a census. In other words, the historian makes no attempt to fictionalize the story; he reports the facts.

Review

1. Does Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus appear to be a myth?

2. Are historical people mentioned with the birth?

3. Can the people be fixed in time on a calendar?

4. What is the significance of being enrolled in a census?

The Historical Christ

The New Testament Record

There are 27 documents by various authors that have been assembled into a book, and called the New Testament. These documents were written in Greek, and have been translated from Greek into English. The writings include historical biographical narratives about the birth, the life, the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. There is a history of the activities of the early church, and there are letters written by the Apostles to the churches they had founded or visited. All of these documents forthrightly claim that a man named Jesus of Nazareth did actually live in the places described in their narratives and at the times these writers went in and out of those places.

 Early Church Writers

The following is a list of people who once lived, who lived near the time of the Apostles, some of whom spoke directly with the Apostles, and all who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact a man who lived, died and rose from the dead in the places mentioned in the New Testament:

  • Clement of Rome: an Elder in the church appointed by Peter.
  • Irenaeus: quotes the Gospels, Acts and more.
  • Ignatius: was a bishop at Antioch, and was martyred. He knew the Apostles well.
  • Polycarp: martyred at age 86; was bishop of the church at Smyrna and was a disciple of the Apostle John.
  • Writings of these men, which confirm their belief in Jesus, have been preserved to our own time.

Early Secular Historians and writers

Cornelius Tacitus, who lived from about 55 AD until 117 AD, was a man of high moral tone. There is severe criticism of Rome in all three of his most notable works—The Germania, The Histories, and The Annals (a work in 12 parts that covers the reign of Tiberius and parts of the reigns of Claudius and Nero). He was Governor of Asia, and son-in-law of Julius Agricola. In his Annals Tacitus alludes to the death of Christ and to the existence of Christians at Rome.  

He said,

“Not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.” [1]

Note the number of items mentioned by Tacitus that exactly agree with the testimony of the Scriptures,

  • The believers were early on called Christians.
  • Christus (Christ) founded the name (the religion, or authority).
  • Pontius Pilate put Christ to death in Judea under the reign of Tiberius.  [Tiberius reigned from AD 14 to AD 37, the exact period when Christ of the New Testament was crucified.]

Lucian was a Greek Writer who lived in the Second Century (about 100 AD). He wrote scornfully concerning Christ and the Christians. But even in scorn there is a kind of confirming testimony, and some truth can be gained by examining what he said. Lucian connected the Christians with the synagogue of Palestine, and alluded to Christ as:  

“...the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods, and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself, and living under his law.”[2]

Caius Plinius Caicilius Secundus (Pliny the Younger) who lived from about AD 62 till AD 113 was an orator and statesman. He was Governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor and wrote to the Emperor Trajan seeking counsel as to how to treat Christians. He explained that he had been killing both men and women, boys and girls. There were so many being put to death that he wondered if he should continue killing anyone who was discovered to be a Christian, or if he should kill only certain ones. He explained that he had made the Christians bow down to the statues of Trajan. He goes on to say that he also,

“...made them curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do.”

In the same letter he says of the people who were being tried that:  

“They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”[3]

The allusions and references in secular history to Christ and to Christians are numerous and detailed. In these references the testimonies of the secular writers rejoin with those of the writers of Scriptures in the essential details of the history of the period. The testimony exactly agrees that Jesus did indeed live at the place spoken of in the Scriptures, at the time indicated, that he founded a religion, and that Pontius Pilate in Judea crucified him.

Jesus and the Myth

Note how Jesus compares to the myth,

  • The chronology of the birth of Jesus is given with a precision equal to any other character who lived during his time.  (See Luke 2:1-7; Luke 3:1-2; Luke 3:21-23.)
  • Jesus is not a grotesque, super-strong, national hero; he is not part animal, did not conduct himself like a mythical super-hero. In fact, the personal appearance of Jesus is not described by even a single word in the New Testament.
  • Jesus does not show the typical coloring of the Hebrews of his own age.
  • There is not a trace in Jesus of the typical Hebrew personality from any age of that ancient nation. Therefore, Jesus cannot be identified as the product of any particular age of the nation of Israel.
  • The geography and topography of the places mentioned in the biographical narratives of the life of Jesus are well known.
  • Some of the cities mentioned in the New Testament still exist today, such as Jerusalem, Damascus, Athens, Rome, or Nazareth. Hills, mountains and rivers are mentioned which we can easily locate on a map, or visit.
  • The biographies of the life of Jesus indicate that he lived near the END of the history of his nation, not at the beginning as is the case of a character in a myth.

Conclusion

Because the events reported in the New Testament, which refer to the birth, life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, were widely accepted and believed at the time they happened, that they are fixed in time and at a definite place, involving named and identifiable persons and places, the matters related are not myth, but are facts.

Final Review Questions

1. Does the term myth apply to historical persons?

2. How did people in ancient times fix an event with regard to its occurrence?

3. Is the birth of Jesus given with historical precision?

4. What is the difference between a “myth,” a “fairy tale,” and a “fable”?

5. Is it correct to refer to a historical event as a myth? Why?

6. Is there a historical record of the birth, life and death of Jesus of Nazareth? If so, what is it?

7. Did Jesus live at the beginning of the history of His nation, or at the end?

8. Have secular historians made reference to Jesus Christ?

9. Name an early church writer who believed Jesus lived.

10. What did Pliny say about Christians?

Appendix

A reference in Josephus to the brother of Jesus also attests to the reality of Christ. Josephus wrote,

“And now Caesar, upon hearing of the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judaea as procurator; but the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes, that this elder Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons, who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and he had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests; but this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who were very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the  Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition he thought he had now a proper opportunity (to exercise his authority). Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others (or some of his companions); and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned...”[4]

A highly significant archaeological find in Jerusalem has added more weight to the reality of Jesus and his brother. The Washington Post, as reported in the Tampa Tribune, printed the following quote in a article about an ancient ossuary,

“A nondescript limestone box, looted from a Jerusalem cave and held secretly in a private collection in Israel, could be the earliest known archaeological reference to Jesus, scholars said Monday. The box is an ossuary, used by Jews at the time of Jesus to hold bones of the deceased. The ossuary has almost no ornamentation except for a simple Aramaic inscription: Ya’akov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua — “:James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.[5] [6]

Questions

1. If Jesus were a myth would Josephus have referred to him as having a brother? 

2. If Jesus had not been more widely known than James, would Josephus have referred to James as the brother of Jesus? Or would the ossuary of James have referred to Jesus if Jesus had not been well known?

________________________________________________  

[1] Tacitus, Annals, p. 365.

[2] Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. 84.

[3] Ibid., p. 86.

[4] Whiston, Josephus, Complete Works, p 423.

[5] The Tampa Tribune, Tuesday, October 22, 2002, front page article.

[6] Paul Maier, “The James Ossuary,”
www.mtio.com/articles/bissar95.htm