What Do Muslims, Jews & Atheists Have in Common With Jesus?
What if two of the world’s major religions and at least some atheists, each opponents of Christianity, all agreed on a common fact about Jesus of Nazareth? When opposing forces agree on a fact, it becomes the strongest form of evidence.
Scriptural literature of both Islam and Judaism acknowledge the historical life of Jesus. Yet, his teachings strike such an acrimonious cord with both religions, severe tensions continue millennia later. Surely if either religion could prove that Jesus never existed, both would certainly do it.
Their avowed antagonism towards the founder of Christianity and his teachings provides a completely different validation perspective of the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth that stands apart from both secular sources and Christian Gospel sources.
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Writing of the Quran was finished in 632 AD and has served as the scriptural foundation for Muslims over the 1500 years since. It may come as a surprise to many that the Quran recognizes Jesus as a historical figure. It makes reference to him in 28 separate verses including 22 that reference “Jesus, Son of Mary,” such as this verse: [i]
“Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah.”[ii]
To be clear, the Quran does not say that Jesus is the Son of God, only that he is the “son of Mary.” The Quran does teach that Jesus was a prophet mentioned in the same company with Noah, Abraham, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.[iii] To be a prophet, Jesus had to have lived just as did these other great prophets.
Connections between Judaism and Jesus or Yeshua are like a magnet – inseparable but with polar opposites that forever repel each other. The existence of Jesus of Nazareth, who was himself a Jew, cannot be denied by Judaism where he is treated as a very real person in its history reference materials. The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 9, published in 1912, republished online as JewishisEncyclopedia.com makes many references to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, specifically commenting about the accuracy of the Gospel of Luke:
“The whole picture of John the Baptist and of Jesus as bearers of good tidings to the poor has the stamp of greater truthfulness.”[iv]
In its biography of “Jesus of Nazareth,” JewishEncyclopedia.com sets the date of his birth at “around 2 BC” and his death in the year “3789 (March or April, 29 AD)”.[v] The Jewish Virtual Library fixes the date for the death of Jesus by crucifixion between 27 and 36 AD.[vi] Encyclopedia Judaica goes further saying matter-of-factly that the four New Testament Gospels themselves are reliable, historical records of an actual historical Jesus:[vii]
“The Gospels are records about the life of Jesus. John’s Gospel is more a treatise reflecting the theology of its author than a biography of Jesus, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke present a reasonably faithful picture of Jesus as a Jew of his time… The Jesus portrayed in these three Gospels is, therefore, the historical Jesus.”
Now throw into the mix a group that is antagonistic towards all religions – atheists. Self-described atheist blogger, Tim O’Neill, specializes in historical reviews and atheism. With a Master of Arts degree in Medieval Literature from the University of Tasmania, he is a member of both the Australian Atheist Foundation and the Australian Skeptics. In his 2-part webpage article “An Atheist Examines the Evidence for Jesus,” he decimates the theories of a mythic origin of Jesus. For example, O’Neill says that a false idea of a mythical crucified Messiah creates so many problems needed to support the myth, it makes the myth idea is so unrealistic it could only mean the Bible account is true:[viii]
“It’s hard to see why anyone would invent the idea of a crucified Messiah and create these problems.And given that there was no precedent for a crucified Messiah, it’s almost impossible to see this idea evolving out of earlier Jewish traditions. The most logical explanation is that it’s in the story, despite its vast awkwardness, because it happened.”
Islam, Judaism and at least some atheists have one thing in common with Christianity – they affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was a true historical figure. The center of the open debate asks, instead, who exactly was Jesus of Nazareth…just a Jewish preacher who stirred up trouble, or a prophet of God, or the Son of God? The starting point is accepting that Jesus did, in fact, walk this Earth – did he?
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[i] Quran. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. n.d. <http://search-the-quran.com> “The Descriptive Titles of Jesus in the Quran (part 1 of 2): “The Messiah” and “a Miracle.”’ IslamReligion.com. 2014. <http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/230>
[ii] Quran. Ale-‘Imran 3:45-51. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
[iii] Al-Ahzab: 33:7. Al-Baqara 2:136. An-Nisa 4:163, 171. Aal-e-Imran 3:84. Al-Maeda 5:75.
[iv] “The New Testament.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>
[v] “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. “Flavius Josephus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014.
[vi] “Crucifixion.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2014. American-Israel Cooperative Enterprise. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org>
[vii] “Jesus.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Page 246
[viii] O’Neill, Tim. “An Atheist Historian Examines the Evidence for Jesus (Part 2 of 2). StrangeNotions.com. <http://www.strangenotions.com/an-atheist-historian-examines-the-evidence-for-jesus-part-2-of-2/> Last accessed 22 Jan. 2017.