(work in progress…)
Sitting around the lunch table with my coworkers yeilds some of the most interesting conversation that I get to have. Everything from libritarian plans of taking over the USA and new revolutions to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This particular day, the day after Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we were talking about none other than him. One claimed that many people believe that Jesus wasn’t even crucified, rather he died in another fashion and the part about the cross was just post-mortem elaboration by his followers. Another asked the question of whether it is important that he died on a cross, or if he just died and was risen from the dead? What if he were to have died in some other way, like “eating bad fish.” I was silent for a while, just taking it in, but I couldn’t sit further when images of Peter denying his friendship with Jesus filled my head. So I spoke up.
To assert that Jesus of nazareth was not, in fact, crucified is a wild claim, for several reasons.
First of all, the New Testament itself is firm in it’s teaching that Jesus was crucified, on a cross on a hill called Golgotha after intense suffering at the hands of Roman soldiers in the capitol city of Jerusalem in the Roman province of Judea. You can find this teaching through out the entire New Testament. Secondly, 1 Corintians, which can be dated between 55 and 57AD, roughly 25 years after Jesus’ death, give or take, claims that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to more than 500 people at one time, most of whom were alive at the time of authorship. While his resurrection is not what is being questioned here, the eye witnesses Paul mentions leads us to believe that if Jesus was, in fact, not crucified, Paul wouldn’t have been able to get away with preaching that he was. He would have been a laughing stock! Who would believe his wacky religion!?
Secondly, secular history confirms the crucifixion of Jesus the nazarene.
Tacitus, the historian who was a heathen, wrote in the year A.D. 55, detailing passages about the crucifixion of Christ and his sufferings. Furthermore, the Roman historians Pliny the Younger and Seutonius, along with non-Roman historians Thallus, Phlegon, and the satirist Lucian of Samsota, refer to the crucifixion of Jesus in their writings. (Martin Hengel’s book, Crucifixion in the Ancient World, gives more details.)
The Greek historian, Lucien, who lived around A.D. 100, was an outstanding writer. he told of the death of Christ and the growing group of Christians. He was an Epicurean who could not understand the faith of Christians and their readiness to die for Christ. In his writings he ridiculed the Christians’ belief in the immortality of the soul and their longing for heaven. He looked on them as a deceived people clinging to uncertainties after death rather than living for the present. One of the most significant allusions to the subject of Christ in his writings is this: “The Christians continue to worship that great man who was crucified in Palestine because he brought a new religion to the world.”
Flavius Josephus, a secular historian, says about Jesus:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this day.
[references to follow shortly!]
Thirdly, it would also seem that if Jesus did not in fact die by Crucifixion that this would be a major stumbling block for academics in other world religions. However, much to the contrary, they don’t make any argument at all about the crucifixion of Jesus, rather try and explain it in different ways. For instance, the second century Marcenites believed that Jesus’ crucifixion was an illusion. Note that they did not deny the manifest crucifixion itself, rather said that what you have seen was an illusion. The Talmud (Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a) even acknowledges that Jesus was crucified. It would seem the only world religion to deny the Crucifixion of Jesus is Islam.
According to Dr. William Lane Craig’s paper, “Who is the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible or the Jesus of the Qur’An”,
According to L. T. Johnson, a New Testament historian at Emory University, “The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its co-agents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion.”3
Perhaps the single most egregious historical error found in the Qur’an is its claim that Jesus was not in fact crucified. Not only is there not a single shred of evidence in favor of this remarkable hypothesis, but the evidence supporting Jesus’ crucifixion is, as Johnson says, “overwhelming.” Those of you who are Muslims need to appreciate that no one who is not already a Muslim believes that the historical Jesus was not crucified. The crucifixion of Jesus is recognized even by the sceptical critics in the Jesus Seminar as–to quote Robert Funk–”one indisputable fact.”4 Indeed, Paula Frederickson, whose book From Jesus to Christ inspired the PBS special by the same name, declares roundly, “The crucifixion is the strongest single fact we have about Jesus.”5
[3 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 125.
4 Jesus Seminar videotape.
5 Paula Frederickson, remark during discussion at the meeting of “The Historical Jesus” section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 22, 1999.]
As to the question of whether it is critically relevant that Jesus died in the manner of crucifixtion, I’ll have to address this another time.
… this is currently an article in progress and I’m pulling references together for it.