Historical Jesus


Only the resurrection of Jesus from the dead can explain why Christians believed Jesus was divine.  It also gives credence to the fact that Jesus claimed to be God.

Many skeptics think that Jesus never made claims to deity – that such claims were merely put on his lips by his followers.  But why would they do so?  The Jews had no concept of a divine messiah.  Indeed, the idea that God could become a human being was considered blasphemy to the Jews.  If the gospels are to be believed, the reason Jesus was condemned to death by the Jews was precisely because he claimed to be God.

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empty_tombThe resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was the central message of the early church and the basis of Christian hope.  But why should we believe that a man was raised from the dead 2000 years ago when we were not there to witness it, and when our uniform experience says that dead people always stay dead?  While many people think the resurrection of Jesus is something you either choose to believe or choose to reject based on your personal religious tastes, the fact of the matter is that there are good, objective, historical reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

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"Jesus said to them, 'My wife'" highlighted.

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife'” highlighted.

I had previously written about the so-called Jesus’ Wife fragment that was brought to the public’s attention in 2012 by Karen King of Harvard Divinity School (here, here, and here). It was greeted by a lot of controversy regarding its authenticity, with the evidence leaning heavy in the direction of forgery. We had been waiting for tests to be performed on the papyrus and ink for well over a year to see if they also pointed in the direction of forgery. Those results finally came out in April 2014. It turns out that the materials are old (~8th century A.D.), but not nearly as old as King initially suggested and the paleographic evidence indicated (4-5th century A.D.).

Despite the ~300 year difference between estimated age and actual age of the papyrus, this seemed to be a vindication for King against those who argued that it is a modern forgery.  But is it?  Couldn’t it be a modern forgery using ancient materials?  After all, no forger buys his paper at the local Wal-Mart!  We would expect a forger to use an old papyrus for his forgery, so an analysis of the materials alone is not sufficient to tell us whether this is a forgery (it can confirm forgery, but not preclude it).  The analysis of the contents (vocabulary, grammar, writing style, etc.) is equally important, if not more important than the material composition itself for evaluating authenticity.

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Dr. Craig responds to an op-ed piece in The Washington Post by Reza Aslan titled “Five Myths about Jesus: Challenging Everything You Think You Know.”

This story continues to fascinate me.  It’s like CSI Miami for Biblical nerds!  And new insights and arguments continue to be offered for and against the authenticity of the GosJesWife.

Christian Askeland has a nice 10 minute video demonstrating some of the peculiarities of the writing on the GosJesWife which cause scholars to doubt its authenticity.

Hugo Lundhaug and Alin Suciu discuss the problems around dating the GosJesWife and evidence that a paintbrush was used for the writing.

Timo Paananen disputes James Watson’s methodology for concluding that the GosJesWife is a patchwork of the Coptic GTh.

Peter Head examines some of the reasons King et al concluded that the writing was authentic, including the lack of ink in a hole created by an insect, the lack of ink where fibers have gone missing from the papyrus, ink on the frayed edges, and the faded ink on the recto and finds them wanting.

“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife'” highlighted.

The web continues to be abuzz with The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.  So much is being written that it’s hard to keep up!  Here are the latest and most important developments.

James Watson has written two more papers (here and here) further developing his original thesis that The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is a collage of various words and phrases culled from the Gospel of Thomas to form a new composition that is supposed to appear like a new gospel.  Andrew Bernhard has also tested Watson’s thesis in two papers (here and here), and agrees that “a modern author could have created the text of GJW simply by using short excerpts culled exclusively from Coptic GTh.”[1]  Both of Bernhard’s papers present an excellent visual and summary of the extensive semantic borrowing of the GosJesWife from the Coptic GTh.  He notes that only 14 out of 139 legible letters on the recto of the GosJesWife do not correspond to the Coptic GTh.  Eight of these 14 letters make up the phrase “my wife.”  Of the other 6 letter differences, they are either due to gender shifts in the pronoun or uninterpretable because they are single letters that come at the beginning or end of the line and lack sufficient context for reconstruction.

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Karen King, professor of divinity at Harvard and specialist in Gnostic Christianity, recently announced the existence of a small (3” x 1.5”), late-4th century[1] fragment in which Jesus speaks of his wife. Written in Sahidic Coptic with black ink[2] on papyrus, the fragment contains eight lines of text on the recto and six lines of text on the verso, with all margins missing.[3]  The extant text on the recto side reads:

1  Not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe
2  The disciples said to Jesus
3  deny. Mary is worthy of it.[4]
4  Jesus said to them, “My wife
5  she will be able to be my disciple
6  Let wicked people swell up
7  As for me, I dwell with her in order to
8  an image[5]

Although the text bears some striking resemblance to known Gnostic texts (particularly the Gospel of Thomas[6], and to a lesser degree the Gospel of Philip), it does not match any known apocryphal or Gnostic gospel.  This may be an independent Gospel of unknown character (Gnostic, apocryphal, etc.) or, as Francis Watson has argued, it may be a modern forgery created using key words from the Coptic version of the Gospel of Thomas (more will be said concerning this momentarily).

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