The Jesus of History: Man or Myth?

Evidence for Jesus has also been discovered in written documents dating as early as the first and second centuries. Within five years of Jesus’ life, church creeds spoke of his crucifixion and resurrection. Furthermore, within 150 years of Jesus’ life, 42 authors mention him in their writings, including nine non-Christian sources. During that same time period, only ten authors mention Tiberius Caesar—the Roman emperor during Jesus’ ministry.[5] Yet no serious historian doubts the existence of Tiberius Caesar. There is also more early documentary evidence for the existence of Jesus than for Alexander the Great. The historicity of Alexander the Great and his military conquests is drawn from only five ancient sources, none of whom were eyewitnesses. Although written 400 years after Alexander, Plutarch’s Life of Alexander is the primary account of his life. Of the twenty contemporary historical accounts on Alexander, not one survives. But regardless of the time gap of several hundred years, historians are convinced that Alexander was a real man and that the essential details of what we read about his life are true. So how reliable are the historical accounts of Jesus?

The New Testament accounts are, of course, the primary record of Jesus’ words and life. They claim to have been written by eyewitnesses. They record the words he spoke and the numerous miracles he performed. But could these accounts have been legendary like the sacred writings of so many other religions? Not according to most leading scholars who have analyzed them. C.S. Lewis, who taught literature at both Oxford and Cambridge, wrote, “Now as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that the Gospels are not legends.”[6]

However, books like Dan Brown’s fictional The Da Vinci Code argue that the original message about Jesus has been altered and his identity hijacked. Other authors have tried to capitalize on Brown’s success with their own version of a Jesus conspiracy. But the evidence to support The Da Vinci Code’s assertion that the records of Jesus were changed simply isn’t there, according to historians.[7] On the contrary, over 5,300 ancient New Testament manuscript copies provide a very accurate picture of what the apostles first wrote about Jesus.

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