What Do Jews, Muslims & Atheists Have In Common?

What if two of the world’s major religions and at least some atheists, all strong adversaries of Christianity, 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. If either religion could prove that Jesus never existed, rest assured both would certainly do it.

Avowed antagonism towards the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth, and his teachings provides a completely different validation perspective of his historical existence. Their agreement on one fact stands out from both secular sources and Christian Gospel sources.

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Writing of the Quran was finished in 632 AD serving 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. The Quran 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 religious figures.

Connections between Judaism and Jesus or Yeshua are like a U-shaped magnet – inseparable yet 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.”

Throw into the mix another 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,” O’Neill 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, the idea becomes 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. At the center of the open debate, the question percolates instead on who exactly was Jesus of Nazareth…just a Jewish preacher who stirred up trouble; or a prophet of God; or actually the Son of God? The starting point is accepting that Jesus did, in fact, walk this Earth – did he?

 

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REFERENCES:

[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. p 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/>

Jesus of Nazareth – a Real Historical Figure?

Media pop culture today widely treats Jesus of Nazareth as a real historical figure. Evidence can be seen in many forms such as the 2013 History Channel mini-series The Bible and its adaption into the 2014 major motion picture release of Son of God. The next year followed with the 2015 NBC mini-series A.D.: Beyond the Bible picking up where the Gospels ended with the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

National Geographic published in 2015 the hard cover book Jesus: An Illustrated Life where its website promo begins by saying “Two thousand years after his death, Jesus of Nazareth remains one of history’s most influential and fascinating figures.”[i] The 2016 spin-off magazine special edition entitled The Story of Jesus states “Jesus of Nazareth remains one of history’s most influential and fascinating figures.” The premise of both is based on the factualness of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem during the end of King Herod’s reign; his Roman crucifixion at Jerusalem, and the claims of his Resurrection that spawned a new religion.

Decades earlier the magazine US News & World Report ran as its cover story on April 16, 1990, “The Last Days of Jesus:  The new light on what happened.” The article was based on the premise that Jesus was a real person who lived, died and quite possibly rose from the dead.

Movies, books and magazines do not necessarily prove Jesus was a true historical figure. Did Jesus really exist – was he a real historical figure? While many may react by thinking this is a dumb question, there are those who are skeptical with some who adamantly insist that he never existed at all and, as a consequence, Jesus cannot then be the Son of God.

Of those who do not believe the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth, that small percentage still translates into millions of people. Many consider themselves to be agnostics or atheists, but not all. On what do they base their belief that Jesus never existed?

Theories loosely center on some manner of Christian conspiracy ranging from a passive form of legend that developed over centuries to a full blown conspiracy where Christian activists created a fictitious messiah figure.[ii] Quotes from the promo webpage for the aptly named book, The Christ Conspiracy by D. M. Murdock, are examples of these views:[iii]

“Jesus is a mythical figure in the tradition of pagan mythology and almost nothing in all of ancient literature would lead one to believe otherwise. Anyone wanting to believe Jesus lived and walked as a real live human being must do so despite the evidence, not because of it.” – C. Dennis McKinsey

“The gospel story is an artificial, non-historical work. It has been fabricated from source materials that can be identified and traced to their incorporation into the gospels. There is not a particle of hard evidence that ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ ever existed.” – Harold Leidner

Standing opposed to these charges are diverse sources outside the Bible reaching from today back through the centuries to within just a few years after the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. They come from Roman era historians and a Greek celebrity; non-Christian major religions – even some atheists. 

Virtually all the sources that corroborate the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth are antagonistic toward Christianity. When opposing forces agree on a common point of information, it becomes the strongest form of a truth because both sides have essentially established – willingly or reluctantly – that it is a fact. It is a strategy used by courtroom lawyers who artfully attempt to extract common points of truth from the witnesses who testify in a trial. Using the testimony of their opposing witnesses, they extract truths and establish facts that strengthen their own cases.

Some sources do not directly discuss the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but in denouncing or criticizing the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, they have conceded by inference that he was born, lived and walked this earth. Others refer to the crucifixion of Jesus, a recognition that he once lived in order to be put to death.

Credentials of each of these sources are key to weighing the integrity of their statements or positions in-spite-of their antagonism. One is the highly recognized Roman historian of the Jews, Josephus, himself a former Jewish Pharisee priest and military General. Others include prominent Roman historical figures. Perhaps the most credible sources are two other major religions, Judaism and Islam.

Setting all the evidence of those sources aside, there is one overarching impression to consider. The personage of Jesus has made such an impact on the world over the past 2000 years up to this very day – as can be witnessed weekly if not daily in current news stories – the name of Jesus of Nazareth still causes religious tensions, political turmoil, persecution, brutal atrocities of martyrdom and wars to be fought.[iv]

What are the odds that all these consequences are the result of a false premise, one that says Jesus was not a real person? To many, these things alone attest to the fact that something profound happened involving a historical figure two thousand years ago that forever changed history; nevertheless, some will still continue to believe it is all a myth. Was Jesus of Nazareth a real person?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[i] Isbouts, Jean-Pierre. “Jesus: An Illustrated Life.” National Geographic Society. 2015. <http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Illustrated-Life-Jean-Pierre-Isbouts/dp/1426215681/ref=sr_1_1/185-6473608-4923818?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1462376067&sr=1-1&keywords=national+geographic+jesus>
[ii] Gauvin, Marshall J. “Did Jesus Christ Really Live?” (ca. 1922).  Infidels.org. <http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/marshall_gauvin/did_jesus_really_live.html>
Ron Csillag. “For scholars, a combustible question: Was Christ real?” TheStar.com. 2008. <http://www.thestar.com/article/557548
“Was Jesus a Real Man?” The Atheist Apologist. 2010. <http://www.atheistapologist.com/2010/06/was-jesus-real-man.html>
“Historicity of Jesus.” New World Encyclopedia. 2012.  <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Info:Main_Page>
Roussos, Ioannis. “On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.” Atheist Foundation of Australia. <http://atheistfoundation.org.au/article/on-the-historicity-of-jesus-christ rel=”nofollow”>
Rich, Tracey R. “Looking for Jesus?”, JewFAQ.org. <http://www.jewfaq.org/search.shtml?Keywords=what+about+Jesus>
Wolchover, Natalie.  “Proof of Jesus Christ?  7 Pieces of Evidence Debated.” 2013. LiveScience.com.  <http://www.livescience.com/38014-physical-evidence-jesus-debated.html>
Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. 1895.  “Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.”  Online Books Page. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>
[iii]  Murdock, D.M. aka S., Acharya.  The Christ Conspiracy.  Advertisement.  <http://www.truthbeknown.com/christ.htm rel=”nofollow”>
[iv]   Chiaramonte, Perry. “Christian persecution seen in more locations across the globe, new report shows.” February 02, 2017. <http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/02/02/christian-persecution-seen-in-more-locations-across-globe-new-report-shows.html>