Jesus of Nazareth – a Real Historical Figure?
Media today widely treats Jesus of Nazareth as a real historical figure. Evidence can be seen in many forms such as via NBC, National Geographic and The History Channel.
Premises of these media presentations 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.
The History Channel mini-series The Bible in 2013 became the adaption into the 2014 major motion picture release of Son of God. The next year this was 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 in 2015 published 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.” 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.”
New York Times reported decades earlier in 1977 an article entitled Jesus of Nazareth which was then turned into a 6 hour TV episode that later aired on NBC. US News & World Report magazine ran as its cover story on April 16, 1990, The Last Days of Jesus: The new light on what happened 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. While many may react by thinking the historicity of Jesus is an established fact, there are those who are skeptical with some adamantly insisting he never existed at all and, as a consequence, Jesus cannot then be the Son of God.
Of those skeptics 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.
Theories against the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth fall into two basic areas. One is based on a passive form of legend that developed over centuries about a figure known as Jesus.
Another theory is loosely centered on some manner of Christian conspiracy where Christian activists created a fictitious messiah figure, some believing it is a full blown conspiracy. Quotes from the promo webpage for the aptly named book, The Christ Conspiracy by D. M. Murdock, are examples of these views:
“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 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 sources; major, non-Christian religions – even some atheists.
Credentials of these historical sources are important in weighing the integrity of their statements in-spite-of their antagonism. One is these 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 such as Tacitus and Suetonius. Perhaps the most credible sources are two major world religions, Judaism and Islam.
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 crucified.
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. Trial lawyers use this strategy to artfully extract common points of truth from witnesses to establish factual information. Using factual testimony of their opposing witnesses, they strengthen their own cases.
Over the past 2000 years up to this very day, the personage of Jesus of Nazareth has and continues to make a monumental impact on the world stage. Continually seen in current news stories, the name of Jesus still causes religious tensions, political turmoil, persecution, brutal atrocities of martyrdom and wars to be fought.
What are the odds that all these consequences are the result of a false premise, one that says Jesus was not a real person? Something profound happened involving a historical figure two thousand years ago that forever changed history – even calendars – nevertheless, some will still continue to believe it is all a myth. Was Jesus of Nazareth a real person?
Updated November 11, 2022.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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