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History

Was Jesus Really Born
By Virendra Parekh, December 2013 [[email protected]]

Chapter :

"Let  me tell you at the outset that Jesus is no mythological mumbo-jumbo  like your Rama and Krishna, and even Buddha. On the contrary, he was  a solid historical figure whose miracles were witnessed and  vouchsafed by many contemporary people," said a Jesuit missionary  to Sita Ram Goel. Let us have a closer look at this ‘solid  historical figure’.

The  historicity of Jesus as described in the gospels has been one of the  principal dogmas of all Christian denominations. Now, as Ram Swarup  used to say, historicity by itself does not mean much. You and I are  historical persons, but that fact by itself does not confer greatness  or any other virtue on us. However, when historicity of the founder  is touted as a point of superiority, we are inclined to examine it a  little more closely.

The  missionary propaganda would leave the impression that Jesus was a  mighty figure who took the world by storm as soon as he appeared on  the scene. However, the ‘solid historical figure’ melts into thin  air at the first brush with modern historical research. Biblical and  Christological research undertaken in the West during the last two  and a half centuries has cast doubt on the historicity of every  aspect of the life of Jesus, including his existence as a historical  person.

Albert  Schweitzer, the world famous theologian and missionary, admitted  that, "There is nothing more negative than the result of the  critical study of the Life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came  forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the  Kingdom of the God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth and  died to give his work final consecration, never had any existence.  This image has not been destroyed from without. It has fallen to  pieces, cleft and disintegrated by concrete historical problems which  came to surface one after the other and…refused to be palmed down  to fit the design on which Jesus of the theology has been  constructed..." [1]

Silence  of the Pagans

The  history of ancient Rome has been recorded in great detail. There is a  vast body of historical and philosophical literature written in or  referring to the time-frame when Jesus is supposed to have walked the  earth. But that literature is oblivious of the mighty figure called  Jesus Christ. Seneca (2 BC-66 AD), Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD),  Martial (40-102 AD), Plutarch (45-125 AD), Juvenal (55-140 AD),  Apuleius (d. 170 AD), Pausanius (d. 185 AD) and Dio Casius (155-240  AD) do not mention any Jesus or Christ. Epictetus (50-100 AD) refers  to Galileans starting with Judas the Galilean who led the Jewish  revolt against Rome in the first decade of the First Century, but not  to Jesus of Nazareth who is supposed to have come from Galilee  shortly afterwards. There is no reference to any Jesus in any pagan  work of the time.

"The  name of Seneca, of the elder and the younger Pliny, of Tacitus, of  Plutarch, of Galen, of the slave Epictetus, and the emperor Marcus  Antonius, adorn the age in which they flourished, and exalt the  dignity of human nature…Yet all these sages (it is no less an  object of surprise than of concern) overlooked or rejected the  perfection of the Christian system..." says Edward Gibbon in his  classic Decline  and Fall of the Roman Empire [2].  Read in between the lines to grasp what he wants to convey to a  largely Christian readership without causing offence. He adds,  equally meaningfully, "those among them who condescend to mention  the Christians consider them only as obstinate and perverse  enthusiasts who exacted an implicit submission to their mysterious  doctrines without being able to produce a single argument that could  engage the attention of men of sense and learning."

There are a few  words or stray passages referring to "Chrestus" or his  worshippers in Pliny the Younger (60-114 AD), Tacitus (55-120 AD),  Suetonius (70-120 AD) and Sulpicius Severus (d. 400 AD). The word  "Chrestus" ("good" or "agreeable") was used as an  appellation for characters belonging to several sects. It did not  mean anything like ‘Christ’ or ‘Christos’. That alone can  explain the attempt by a Christian scribe to scratch the "e" in Chrestus and replace it by an "i" in a manuscript of Tacitus. [3]

Critical  scrutiny has shown that all these references either do not relate to  Jesus of Nazareth, or are influenced by Christian tradition, or are  clever Christian fabrications. Ian Wilson concludes that "in all  this there is scarcely a crumb of information to compel a belief in  Jesus’ existence". [4] Paul Johnson comments that fabrications  "occur throughout the history of Christianity up to Renaissance and  even beyond". [5]

Sita  Ram Goel has pointed out that word "Christian" does not appear in  the Christian literature itself before 140 AD. On the other hand,  anti-Christian polemics which appears for the first time around 160  AD, starts by questioning the existence of a character called Jesus  Christ. [6]

Non-evidence  of Jewish historians

As  per Christian tradition, Jesus was a Jew who lived in Palestine  during the first 30 or 33 years of the era which is supposed to have  begun from the year of his birth. One would expect him to get a pride  of place in the writings of Jewish historians who lived and wrote  during the same period or a little later. It is, therefore, strange  that they are silent on Jesus or the religion he is said to have  founded. Philo (20 BC-54 AD), who wrote a history of the Jews, knows  no Jesus Christ and no Christians. Nor does another historian of the  same period, Justus of Tiberius.

The  most interesting case is that of Flavius Josephus who lived from AD  36 or 37 to 99 or 100. He authored two monumental works – The  Jewish War in 77 AD and The  Antiquities of the Jews in 92 AD – which are regarded as a major source for the history of  Palestine in the first century. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, his  works have been doctored by Christian scribes to impart a semblance  of historicity to Jesus. Christian apologists point to two passages,  one long and the other very short, which mention Jesus as a wise man  and also as Christ. But scholars have proved quite convincingly that  both of them are either clumsy Christian interpolations or have been  tampered with by Christian scribes.

Here  they are as they occur in the modern editions of Antiquities  of Jews.
(1) Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was doer of miraculous works. He was Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of many of the principal men    amongst us, (i.e. Jews) condemned him to cross (April 3, 33 AD),those that loved him at first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day (April 5, 33 AD)… (VII, III.3)
The dates in the passage are those which are held by the modern Church, they are not supplied by Josephus. The whole passage is a later interpolation. According to Prof CK Barret, "The authenticity of Josephus’s reference to Jesus as it stands now is very  questionable. The passage is found in all the manuscripts (but none is older than eleventh century) and was known to Eusebius (fourth  century) but Origen (first half of the third century) does not seem  to have read it, at least in its present form, since he plainly tells  us that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Christ." [7]

(2) …so    he (Ananus, the High Priest) assembled the Sanhedrin (assembly) of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others,…and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of law, he delivered them to be stoned…(XX IX.1)

The authenticity and credibility of this passage is also dubious because its account of the character of James (as a law breaker) and his death (by stoning) is contradicted by other early accounts.

The  vast rabbinical literature of the Jews, composed during the first two  and a quarter centuries of the Christian era, contains only five  authentic references to Jesus. But they "do not conclusively  establish his historicity, as none of them is sufficiently early".  Moreover, "they are so vague in their chronology that they differ  by as much as 200 years in the dates they assign to him". None of  the five Jesuses fits the Christian scheme of Jesus Christ’s birth  or life or death. The Talmud betrays no knowledge of Jesus  independent of the Christian tradition, and it is conceded by most  Christian scholars that it "is useless as a source of information  about Jesus". [8]

The ‘Evidence’  of Gospels

The  quotation marks in the sub-title are used advisedly. In traditions  influenced by Christianity, the phrase ‘gospel truth’ signifies  something absolutely certain, beyond the pale of doubt. However, the  evidence of Jesus’ historicity as provided by gospels is so full of  contradictions and inconsistencies as to provide good reason to doubt  everything about him, including his existence. These have been  noticed not just by sceptics and agnostics, but also by ardent  believers. As far back as the fourth century, St. Augustine had said  that "only on the authority of the Church could he believe the  gospels." [9]

Ian Wilson, a  practising Catholic, says: "it does not need anyone with a Ph.D. in  theology to recognize that the Christian gospels can scarcely be the  infallible works fundamentalists would have us believe". [10]

Will  Durant says: "In summary, it is clear that there are many  contradictions between one gospel and another, many dubious  statements of history, many suspicious resemblances to the legends  told of pagan gods, many incidents apparently designed to prove the  fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, many passages possibly  aiming to establish a historical basis for some later doctrine or  ritual of the Church." [11]

Purely by way of  illustration, let us see what gospels say on most elementary details  about Jesus.

(a)  Genealogy of Jesus: Two of the four Gospels - Matthew and Luke - give the genealogy of  Jesus. Matthew lists the supposed ancestors from Abraham onwards  (1.1-16). Luke traces Jesus’ supposed ancestors all the way to Adam  and thence to God. Abraham, of course, figures in his list, too. When  we compare the two lists, we find that in Matthew there are 39  generations between Abraham and Jesus. In Luke there are 55  generations between Abraham and Jesus. Matthew lists 27 generations  between David and Jesus, Luke lists 42. Of the 26 names that occur  between David and Jesus in Matthew, only four occur in Luke – and  three others with similar spellings. And even among these few names,  the order differs. And yet both the lists, as they occur in the  Gospels, emanate from God and must be true.

(b)  Year of Birth: Then again, in which year was Jesus born? "Jesus was born… during  the time when Herod was king," says Matthew (2.1). Now Herod died  in 3 BC. That would place birth of Jesus in 4 BC or 3 BC at the  latest. "It was the fifteenth year of the rule of Emperor Tiberius;  Pontius Pilate was the Governor of Judea, Herod was the ruler of  Galilee and his brother Philip was…" says Luke (3.1-3) These  verses put the date of Jesus’ birth to 2 or 1 BC. The same Gospel  also tells us that "at that time Emperor Augustus ordered a census  to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. When this first census took  place, Quirinius was the Governor was Syria…" (Luke 2.1-3). Now,  a census did take place when Quirinius was Governor of Syria. But  that happened in 6 or 7 AD. But all these dates – 4 or 3 BC, 2 or 1  BC or 6 or 7 AD – must be taken as having God as their authors  since they occur in the Gospels.

Look  at the basic contradiction in the twin claims about Jesus being the  descendant of David, and also being born of a virgin mother. If Jesus  was born of a virgin, if Joseph had nothing to do with his being  conceived then how can his descent be traced through Joseph to David?

Such  contradictions and discrepancies mark every stage, every event in the  life of Jesus: the place of his birth, the date of his birth, his  ministry, his miracles, his trial, his crucifixion and resurrection.  It is neither possible nor necessary to list all of them here.

Biblical  scholars have compiled them with great diligence. The findings and  conclusions of their research are available to anyone with relatively  small effort. Among others, for example, Arun Shourie has documented  them in great detail in his Harvesting Our Souls: missionaries, their design, their claims (ASA Publications, New Delhi, 2000). Small wonder that no responsible  theologian or historian is now prepared to construct the life-story  of Jesus from material provided by the gospels.

"But  that is the whole point. You are nit-picking, going on and on about  the discrepancies among the accounts of an event in different  gospels. The details of gospels are not what is important. What  matters is the figure of faith that they weave," the missionaries  would say.

Although  this is a somersault from tall claims about a solid figure of history  as opposed to mythological mumbo-jumbo, we would let it pass. There  is no doubt that millions of Christians through the  ages  have derived solace and guidance from the  gospels.

The  Hindu response to this argument would be: if faith is what is  important, what is the reason to prefer Jesus over, say, Ram or  Krishna? As figures of faith they too have sustained millions upon  millions of people for far longer than Jesus. Moreover, they have  done so without the help of the highly aggressive, well-oiled and  well-heeled machinery of the church.

Acknowledgments
1. History of Hindu-Christian Encounters Ad 304 to 1996 by Sita Ram Goel, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1996.
2. Missionaries in India Arun Shourie, ASA Publications, New Delhi 1994
3. Hindu View of Christianity and Islam Ram Swarup, Voice of India, New Delhi 1992
4. Jesus Christ: Artifice for Aggression Sita Ram Goel, Voice of India, New Delhi 1994
5. Profiles    in Deception: Ayodhya and Dead Sea Scrolls N S Rajaram Voice of India, New Delhi 2000

References
1. The  Quest for the Historical Jesus Albert Schweitzer, English translation London 1910 reprint 1945 p.  397.
2. Decline  and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward  Gibbon Modern Library edition p. 442.
3. An  Analysis of Christian Origins Georges Ory, London 1961 pp. 33 and fn 38.
4. Jesus:  The Evidence Ian  Wilson, Pan Books 1985 p. 51.
5. A  History of Christianity Paul  Johnson Penguin Books, London 1978, pp. 26-27.
6. Jesus  Christ: an Artifice for Aggression,  Sita Ram Goel, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1994, first Reprint 2001 p.  5
7. The New Testament Background ed. C K Barret p. 277.
8. G.A. Wells, Did Jesus Exist? 1986  p.12 with reference to J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth,London,1925,  and M. Goldstein, Jesus in the Jewish Tradition, New  York, 1950 as quoted by Sita Ram Goel in Jesus:  an Artifice for Aggression,  Voice of India, New Delhi 1994 p. 4
9. An  Analysis of Christian Origins,  Georges Ory, London 1961 p. 39
10. Jesus: The Evidence,  Ian Wilson, Pan Books 1985 p.30.
11. The Story of Civilisation, Part III, Caesar and Christ, Will Durant, Fourth Printing, New York pp. 556-57

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