Jesus of Nazareth is one of the most influential figures in human history, but his existence has been questioned by some skeptics and critics. What can we know about him beyond the religious texts that tell his story?
Historians and archaeologists have been able to find some clues and corroborate some aspects of the New Testament accounts, but they also face many challenges and limitations. Here are some of the main points of debate and evidence for the historical Jesus.
Was Jesus a real person? Most scholars of the New Testament agree that Jesus was a real person who lived in first-century Palestine. There are few historical sources outside of the Bible that mention him, but some do exist. For example, Jewish historian Josephus and Roman historian Tacitus both refer to Jesus and his followers in their writings. However, some of these references are disputed or considered interpolations by later Christian scribes.
Where was Jesus born and raised? The New Testament says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth. Archaeologists have found evidence of both places, but they have not been able to confirm any direct connection to Jesus or his family. Some scholars also question whether Jesus was really born in Bethlehem, since this may have been a way to link him to the prophecy of the Messiah from the house of David.
What did Jesus teach and do? The New Testament portrays Jesus as a charismatic preacher, healer and miracle-worker who challenged the religious authorities and announced the coming of God’s kingdom. His teachings focused on love, forgiveness, repentance and justice for the poor and oppressed. He also claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah, which provoked hostility from some Jews and Romans.
How did Jesus die and rise again? The New Testament says that Jesus was crucified by the Romans under Pontius Pilate, at the request of the Jewish leaders who accused him of blasphemy and sedition. He died on the cross and was buried in a tomb, but on the third day he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. This is the core belief of Christianity, but it is also the most controversial one. Some skeptics argue that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived or fainted. Others suggest that his body was stolen or moved by his followers, who then fabricated or hallucinated his resurrection.
The historical evidence for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is limited and ambiguous. There is no definitive physical or archaeological proof of either event. There is also no independent confirmation from non-Christian sources. However, some scholars point to the fact that crucifixion was a common and brutal form of execution in Roman times, and that it would be unlikely for anyone to survive it. They also argue that the early Christians were willing to die for their faith in the risen Jesus, which would be hard to explain if they knew it was a lie.
The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is not conclusive, but it is not negligible either. It shows that he was a real person who lived in a specific time and place, who had followers and enemies, who taught and performed deeds that attracted attention and controversy, and who died a violent death that sparked a movement that changed the world.