Is Jesus Christ historical? I have to skip the final part of my current series to focus on this one. Actually, I think I lack the necessary skills because I am no religion historian. Thus, I do not see why this article would not also be subject to change anytime soon. What a disclaimer I have given just now, but is it not better to admit what you lack than attempt to sugarcoat it with perceived strength on a field you are not so strong?

Going back, it has recently come to my attention that Jesus Christ, in one of the most famous social media sites in the world, is portrayed as a Fictional Character, as opposed to other religion founders who were labelled as Public Figures (like Siddhartha Gautama, the one called Buddha). What is aimed here is to trace, at least in the preliminary sense, the historicity of Jesus, the one called Christ. Besides, it is around five weeks before Christmas will be commemorated this year. Very timely indeed. A monumental, if not daring, work for this emerging history blog as well. It took me two days to finish this series.

Most liked Facebook page of Jesus Christ - 662 of my 862 friends (77%)
in the famous social media site liked the page
Apparently, they might have overlooked the fact
that Jesus here is labeled as "Fictional Character"
or else, it seems that they also liked the label for Jesus as well
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The time that Jesus is the main topic in the world might have come to past today, so far as the online world is concerned. This is evidenced by the tag cloud constructed in 2011 by the English Wikipedia featuring its Top 1000 vital articles by number of views. Jesus Christ is not even the most liked in Facebook. As of August 2014, it was Shakira who had the most likes: 101,814,568. Yet, for that matter, I do not even know who Shakira is!

The Beatles, United States, Sex, United Kingdom, Adolf Hitler, World War II,
India, Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada, New York City, and the Philippines
even had more views in the English Wikipedia than Jesus Christ
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
However, it is still no doubt that Jesus Christ commands the most followers in the world today. In 2012, 31.5% are adherents of Christianity, the religion which foundation was attributed to Him. In the Philippines, 92.5% of the population in 2000 were adherents. Why would some 2.2 billion people believe someone who was refuted by some scholars to be ahistorical? Is this religion, and Jesus for that matter, really for the weak in mind and heart?

The various depictions of Jesus Christ through time
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
According to C. Warren Hollister (1930-1997), an American historian, and graduate of Harvard and UCLA,
Christianity's founder and Savior was a vivid historic personality, Jesus, beside whom such mythical idealizations as Mithras or Isis must have seemed tepid and diffuse.
Jesus was not only described as historical, but His account was described as vivid. That is, clear. And yet, how clear was the historicity of Jesus Christ?

In the Bible, the life of Jesus was best described in the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Although, even these Gospels were being under fierce scrutiny, which included the ambiguous authorship and date of writing.

If one is to base on the Biblical accounts, Hollister writes,
He is depicted in the Gospels as a warm, attractive, magnetic leader who miraculously healed the sick, raised the dead, and stilled the winds. His miracles were seen as credentials of the divine authority with which he claimed to speak. His ministry was chiefly to the poor and outcast, and in Christianity's early decades it was these classes that accepted the faith most readily.
According to the Gospels, Jesus had fed 5,000 people who had followed Him all the way to listen to his preaching. The 5,000 may not even include the hundreds of followers he had gained before this event. One cannot think that only the 12 disciples distributed all the food to 5,000 people, and they themselves would still have to eat as well. Also, if this account is accurate, then it might as well amount to around 1.5% of the entire population of the area. One can compare the People Power Revolution of 1986, wherein around 3% of the national population flocked into one area in a campaign to oust Former President Ferdinand Marcos.

Besides the Bible, reputedly the bestselling book in history and masterpiece of world literature (Is literature not historical even if it may be able to reflect the times wherein it was written?), there exists a number of sources that mention Jesus. Two of the most cited were the accounts of Josephus (37-c.100) and Tacitus (56-117).


In the Testimonium Flavianum, Jewish military leader and historian Josephus says,
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
However, this most cited account of Josephus on Jesus became subject of fierce debate. Today, it is only regarded as partly authentic. It has been taken into note that a Christian translator may have put in the reference to Jesus long after Josephus actually made the account. Still, no translation is perfect. Besides, who would even know if the entire document is replaced by the translator if we do not have the original? Is it possible that Josephus actually referred to Jesus without the interference of a Christian translator? If the Christian translator saw that the testimony had nothing to do with his Lord, would he still go on to translate Josephus anyway? One more thing is, can Josephus be that ignorant (or perhaps arrogant) not to account anything about a supposedly popular leader that was said to have fed 5,000 at one time? The best we can do is to cite it, and compare it with other sources available to us today.

Meanwhile, in the Annals, Roman senator and historian Tacitus says,
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus [Greek for Christ], from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus [Pilate], and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.
Again, the original document is not extant. The question of changing the words would arise once more in this case. There is also the possibility that Tacitus relied heavily on hearsay, as he did in his Germania. Then again, he was Roman. How would he freely document histories of, say, seemingly uncooperative people such as the Jews or the Germans? Indeed, the Jews would revolt in 70 and 132, while most Germans were not under Roman rule at this point. His possible reliance on hearsay might simply be a consequence of the hostility between the Romans and the various peoples in the empire's periphery. Also, at the time Tacitus wrote his Annals, it was the reign of Emperor Trajan. The emperor persecuted Christians. Would it not be logical that a Christian avoid contact with a Roman who would surely kill him? That is, unless such Christian is devoted to what was written by Paul to the Philippians: For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Another account would be that of Roman historian Suetonius (69-c.122) in The Lives of Twelve Caesars,
Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome.
Depiction of Minos (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
It has been considered that Chrestus could have been a garbled or distorted term of Christ. He was Roman, anyway, and it might not have been a matter to him whether he got the correct word for an instigator in a far province. It is like the case for the legendary king of Crete, Minos. His name seemingly spread in the Mediterranean, with the appearance of other legendary founders like Manu in Sumerian tradition and Menes in Egyptian tradition. And, that is a difference of at least three letters. The difference between Tacitus's Christus and Suetonius's Chrestus is only one letter. The garbled notion may be considered a possibility.

Also, Suetonius was not the only one who used Chrestus. Roman governor and senator Pliny the Younger (61-c.113), in his letter to Emperor Trajan approximately dated 110 also used Chrestus in reference to the one worshiped by the Christians. Since Suetonius was a close friend, and most probably a staff also, of Pliny, could it be taken into consideration that they might have influenced each other on which term to use in reference to Jesus, the instigator of the Jews?

Perhaps one of the earliest of the mockers of Christ after His death was that of Lucian of Samosata (125-180) in his satire The Passing of Peregrinus,
The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. … You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains their contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.
Update as of December 2016: Jesus Christ relabeled as "Public Figure" but with less followers at more or less 5 million (down from around 12 million at the time this article was published).



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See the Omega of the historicity of Jesus series by clicking here.

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