Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nicky Gumbel Puts His Footnote In It

In Alpha, Questions of Life, Chapter 1, Nicky Gumbel describes evidence for Jesus. I'll quote a brief section then discuss:
For example, the Roman historians Tacitus (directly) and Suetonius (indirectly) both write about him. The Jewish historian Josephus, born in AD 37, describes Jesus and his followers thus:
"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. 7"

Tacitus did write about Christians, the fact that he referred to it as a mischievous superstition means it is unlikely to be a Christian forgery. He wrote in CE 116, 70 years after the event, and his focus was on fires that consumed Rome in 64 CE. I think it gives good evidence that there were a large group of Christians in Rome at that time and that they considered Jesus their founder. Tacitus does not cite his source or say if he checked official documents, but he was a respected historian and it's noteworthy that he did not consider the belief that Pilate executed Jesus to be inaccurate. 

What of Suetonius? He wrote the following:

"As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them [the Jews] from Rome".
 The most significant problem is that Chrestus was a common name among slaves and others - it means 'good' or 'useful'. There's no indication it referred to Jesus.

Finally we come to the large, quoted section from Josephus. But what of the 7 at the end? It indicates an endnote. Buried at the back of the book we find the following:
"Even if, as some suggest, the text has been corrupted, none the less the evidence of Josephus confirms the historical existence of Jesus."
By 'some' he means all reputable scholars of the text. Seems odd to relegate this rather pertinent information to an endnote.

Addendum: a Christian friend wrote an excellent post on the subject. You should check it out:


Anonymous said...

In fairness as kevin's work show the arabic version shows Josephus does think that Jesus existed.

The difference in the version is to bolster belief in his divinity but Gumbel's desire is to show that he existed. Whatever version he uses points to that.

failedatheist said...

Yeah like what was said above, the Arabic version has none of the interpolations that exist in the other manuscripts, with that in mind it does the job.

Your right though the Suetonius document has little value although some have argued that the expelling of Jews from Rome is the one referred to in Acts 18:2 but I'm not persuaded of its overall value.