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Author Topic: The Historicity of Jesus - The Spread of Christianity in the 1st Century  (Read 5505 times)
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jmfcst
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« on: February 09, 2012, 01:11:40 pm »
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I'd like to hear nonbelievers thoughts on this...

since it is a historical fact (verified independently outside of the bible) that Christianity had spread throughout the Roman empire by 60AD, to the extent that, both in geography and in number, it was recognizable to the authorities. (In fact, the book of Acts not only describes in accurate detail the geography, places, names of the 1st Century Mediterranean world, it also accurately describes the breath of Christianity up to 60AD.)...

...So, based on the rapid spread of Christianity as recorded in history (in both biblical and nonbiblical sources), both in Judea and throughout the Roman empire…is there any reasonable argument against the existence of a man named Jesus, and that that “(from Wiki...)Jesus was a Jew who was regarded as a teacher and healer, that he was baptized by John the Baptist, and was crucified in Jerusalem on the orders of the Roman Prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, on the charge of sedition against the Roman Empire”?

Now, obviously you can disagree that he preformed maricles and rose from the dead…but is there any reasonable argument about the basic historical facts as quoted above from Wiki?

---

And if you don’t believe in even the existence of the man known as Jesus, what is your theory to explain the rapid spread of Christianity from ~30AD through 60AD if the man himself was merely a myth?
« Last Edit: February 09, 2012, 01:14:09 pm by consigliere jmfcst »Logged

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« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2012, 01:14:23 pm »
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Playing devil's advocate here, what are the independent sources you speak of regarding the spead of christianity by 60AD?  Josephus?  Who or what else?
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« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2012, 01:21:01 pm »
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Playing devil's advocate here, what are the independent sources you speak of regarding the spead of christianity by 60AD?  Josephus?  Who or what else?

Roman authorities thoughout the empire recorded dealing with Christians (e.g. Roman historian Tacitus documented Nero's persecution of Christians after the fire of 64AD)
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« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2012, 01:36:49 pm »
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Playing devil's advocate here, what are the independent sources you speak of regarding the spead of christianity by 60AD?  Josephus?  Who or what else?

Roman authorities thoughout the empire recorded dealing with Christians (e.g. Roman historian Tacitus documented Nero's persecution of Christians after the fire of 64AD)

Fair enough.  Don't take this the wrong way, but I would avoid using the Bible as a self authenticating sort of reference if you're looking to debate non-believers.  From their perspective (perhaps not just theirs), just because the Bible (...Book of Acts etc) says Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, crucified by Pilate...died and was buried...3 days he rose from the dead etc...doesn't mean from that perspective it happened.  Just that the Bible says it did.

You're better off using sources like the one you cited above, if you wish to be persuasive with this group...assuming the independent source isn't getting his information from the "disputed" historical source or what not.

That's all I have to say about that.
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« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2012, 01:53:38 pm »
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my point is that since Jesus was portrayed as someone well known to both the public and to the authorities (both Roman and Jewish), how could such a myth gain acceptance?  After all, would you buy into a story of a man who supposedly was well known yet no one you know had ever heard of him?  Now, such a tell might possibly sell in BFE, but not in Roman ruled towns that were hooked into the goings on.

Also, the book of Acts documented several non-believers arguments used to attempt to discredit Christianity, but none of them deny the existance of Jesus, and there are several nonChristian references to the very same arguments against Christianity echoed in the book of Acts.  And, not surprisingly, the Jewish Talmud never denies the existance of Jesus, nor does the Jewish historian Josephus...in fact, Rome itself acknowleged Jesus death and confirms the spread of Christianity from Judea to Rome, just as the book of Acts states:

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(Roman historian Tacitus)...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, 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, 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.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2012, 02:08:56 pm by consigliere jmfcst »Logged

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« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2012, 01:59:19 pm »
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Don't take this the wrong way, but I would avoid using the Bible as a self authenticating sort of reference if you're looking to debate non-believers. 

understood. I am simply stating that:

1) Jesus' existence and death in Jerusalem was not in question, not to 1st Century Christians and not to 1st Century nonChristians.

2) The book of Acts account of the spread of Christianity up to 60AD fits the nonChristian historical record.
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« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2012, 01:59:21 pm »
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There's little doubt that Christianity had spread far and wide throughout the Hellenized eastern half of the Empire and had begun to build a small but visible presence in Rome itself by ~60 CE.  Absolutely.  Whether the early church is anything jmfcst would have recognized as Christian is a different matter.

As for Jesus' historicity, I've never really doubted it myself, but Jesus without the Resurrection is not a God.
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« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2012, 02:06:23 pm »
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Whether the early church is anything jmfcst would have recognized as Christian is a different matter.

Agreed, different topic needing different thread.

---

As for Jesus' historicity, I've never really doubted it myself, but Jesus without the Resurrection is not a God.

The purpose of this thread is not to establish the validity of the miracles (of which there will not be historical evidence), rather it is to establish the historicity of Jesus’ existence and death.

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« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2012, 02:18:53 pm »
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Whether the early church is anything jmfcst would have recognized as Christian is a different matter.

actually, let's go ahead and deal with that here under the assumption you’re saying that the NT doesn’t reflect 1st Century Christianity (if you’re questioning whether my beliefs match the NT, then that is an entirely different topic and shouldn’t be discussed in this thread).

So, are you saying the NT doesn’t represent the beliefs of the early church?  If so, then what is the theory for its divergence?
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« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2012, 03:09:56 pm »
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May I field that for a moment? I think Mikado might be referring to the fact (or idea, rather, since it's hard to pin these things down historiographically) that there were various sources either available to the early Church that are no longer available to us (the 'Q source', for instance) or that parts of the early Church accepted as canonical that were later decided not to be, along with various differences of practice and ritual. Am I close, Mikado?
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« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2012, 03:31:28 pm »
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Here's my answer from that other thread.

I find it likely that there was a person or possibly an amalgamation of persons (there where a number of 'messiahs' at the time) on which the stories are based. How much of the account is accurate is uncertain, and the various miracle claims are particularly questionable.
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« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2012, 03:34:37 pm »
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I think Mikado might be referring to the fact (or idea, rather, since it's hard to pin these things down historiographically) that there were various sources either available to the early Church that are no longer available to us (the 'Q source', for instance) or that parts of the early Church accepted as canonical that were later decided not to be, along with various differences of practice and ritual.

well, even if you throw out all four gospel, you still have wide academic consensus on the authenticity of 7 of Paul's letters (Romans, 1&2Cor, Gal, Philippians, Philemon, 1Thes)...heck any one of them could be used to paint a picture of the early church.

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« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2012, 03:38:09 pm »
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True. I think we should wait for Mikado to elucidate what exactly he meant.
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« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2012, 03:45:06 pm »
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Is there anyone who seriously doubts the 'person' Jesus Christ?
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« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2012, 04:04:29 pm »
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Whether the early church is anything jmfcst would have recognized as Christian is a different matter.

actually, let's go ahead and deal with that here under the assumption you’re saying that the NT doesn’t reflect 1st Century Christianity (if you’re questioning whether my beliefs match the NT, then that is an entirely different topic and shouldn’t be discussed in this thread).

So, are you saying the NT doesn’t represent the beliefs of the early church?  If so, then what is the theory for its divergence?


I'm not disputing the influence of Paul.  However, it's worth pointing out just how much of Paul's epistles are devoted to correcting "errors" in churches that he and his people had set up throughout the Empire.  People had begun believing in wildly divergent themes within Christianity straight from its birth, and Gentile Christianity's primary early demographics (in Rome, at least) of slaves and women didn't contain a particularly large number of educated people.  Add to that Christianity's status as an Eastern "mystery faith" in the eyes of many, and it had an attraction to the 1st century equivalent of BRTD: joiners and mystics desperate for spiritual truths whether they were coming from Isis, Mithra, or Jesus.

In Greece, at least, Christianity had a nice established base to grow on in the Godfearers, or Greek Gentiles who believed in and worshipped the God of the Jews but did not want to go through the difficult process of converting to Judaism.  They tended to convert en masse to Christianity, especially after 70 CE when the Romans burned down Jerusalem and being associated with Judaism no longer seemed a good political decision.

Prior to 70 CE, you also have the huge community of Jewish Christians that Jmf would probably consider Judaizers, providing a big counterbalance to Gentile Christianity.  It's only after many of the Jewish Christians die alongside the Jews in the First Jewish-Roman War and the remaining ones are marginalized that Rome and Greece finally truly eclipse Jerusalem as the center of Christianity.
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« Reply #15 on: February 09, 2012, 04:05:30 pm »
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Is there anyone who seriously doubts the 'person' Jesus Christ?

about 2-3% of scholars.
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« Reply #16 on: February 09, 2012, 04:12:32 pm »
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I find it likely that there was a person or possibly an amalgamation of persons (there where a number of 'messiahs' at the time) on which the stories are based. How much of the account is accurate is uncertain, and the various miracle claims are particularly questionable.

Let me just say this out loud, 'cause I wanna get this straight...

So, you’re saying that Tacitus, who believed that Jesus existed and was executed by order of Pontius Pilatus…was full of crap?  I'm right about that, right? That's your story?

The man you just mocked, the nonChristian Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117), studied rhetoric in Rome to prepare for a career in law and politics…he was known to love hunting and the outdoors…he married the daughter of the famous general Agricola, …and started his career (probably the latus clavus, mark of the senator) under Vespasian…and around 81 or 82, under Titus, entered political life, as quaestor…and advanced steadily through the cursus honorum, becoming praetor in 88 and a quindecimvir…and was a member of the priest college in charge of the Sibylline Books and the Secular games…and gained acclaim as a lawyer and an orator…was known for his skill in public speaking…who from his seat in the Senate became suffect consul in 97 during the reign of Nerva, being the first of his family to do so…who during his tenure reached the height of his fame as an orator when he delivered the funeral oration for the famous veteran soldier Lucius Verginius Rufus…who prosecuted Marius Priscus, proconsul of Africa, for corruption and sent him into exile…who in 112 or 113AD held the highest civilian governorship, that of the Roman province of Asia in Western Anatolia…who authored such works as  De vita Iulii Agricolae (The Life of Agricola), De origine et situ Germanorum (Germania), Dialogus de oratoribus (Dialogue on Oratory),  Historiae (Histories), and Ab excessu divi Augusti (Annals)…

…you’re telling me that this man, my chief witness… considered to be the greatest Roman historian…just decided, out of the clear blue sky to get sloppy when reporting the origins of Christianity and the official actions of a Roman Procurator?
I think your emotions have you in denial, sir.
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« Reply #17 on: February 09, 2012, 04:21:05 pm »
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jmfcst, when dealing with ancient historians it's important to remember that none of them are all that trustworthy in the way you and I would define 'trustworthy'. Tacitus isn't the worst offender by far, but he still is prety worthless as a chief witness for the defense. In general anything beyond direct eyewitness acounts from antiquity can be disregarded if it isn't corroborated by other sources and/or archaeological findings.
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« Reply #18 on: February 09, 2012, 05:55:18 pm »
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jmfcst, when dealing with ancient historians it's important to remember that none of them are all that trustworthy in the way you and I would define 'trustworthy'. Tacitus isn't the worst offender by far, but he still is prety worthless as a chief witness for the defense. In general anything beyond direct eyewitness acounts from antiquity can be disregarded if it isn't corroborated by other sources and/or archaeological findings.

But it is corroborated!  That’s my point - If nonChristian (both Roman and Jewish) accounts are wrong, then why does Acts have the same objections being presented by nonbelievers as indicated in both the Roman and Jewish records?!

Doesn’t the fact that we have 3 differing historical groups (Christian/Roman/Jewish), who have no reason to agree on this subject, all agreeing on the nature of the argument, prove that these were indeed the arguments of that day?

Quote
Christians NT:  Jesus was killed in Jerusalem, we told people that Jesus rose from the dead, but some, both Roman and Jew, did not believe.  Here were their arguments to justify their unbelief.

Christians outside of NT:  We told people that Jesus rose from the dead, but some, both Roman and Jew, did not believe.  Here were their arguments to justify their unbelief..

Jewish: Jesus was killed in Jerusalem, the Christians claim that Jesus rose from the dead, but we don’t believe. Here is why we don’t believe.

Roman: Jesus was killed in Jerusalem, the Christians claim that Jesus rose from the dead, but we don’t believe. Here is why we don’t believe.

When they all agree on what was being argued, and when they all accept Jesus existence and method of death as a given…That’s pretty conclusive to me that the historicity of Jesus existence and death can not be reasonably questioned, unless you are complete hack with an axe to grind.

In fact, you’ll find Jewish nonChristians historical sources, like the Talmud, making the exact same arguments against Christianity as recorded in the NT – the NT gives MANY accounts of the argument s of nonbelievers.  In fact, the Talmud boldly admits, “[yeah, we handed Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified.  And we’d do it all over again given the chance]”
 

"On (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover Jesus the Nazarene was hanged and a herald went forth before him forty days heralding, 'Jesus the Nazarene is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and instigated and seduced Israel to idolatry. Whoever knows anything in defense may come and state it.' But since they did not find anything in his defense they hanged him on (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover. Ulla said: Do you suppose that Jesus the Nazarene was one for whom a defense could be made? He was a mesit (someone who instigated Israel to idolatry), concerning whom the Merciful [God]says: Show him no compassion and do not shield him (Deut. 13:9). With Jesus the Nazarene it was different. For he was close to the government” (Talmud - Sanhedrin 43)
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« Reply #19 on: February 09, 2012, 06:41:33 pm »
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Mikado, I'm interested in learning more about the Godfearers; do you know of any good academic texts on them, in a historical or theological context?
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« Reply #20 on: February 09, 2012, 07:01:53 pm »
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jmfcst, when dealing with ancient historians it's important to remember that none of them are all that trustworthy in the way you and I would define 'trustworthy'. Tacitus isn't the worst offender by far, but he still is prety worthless as a chief witness for the defense. In general anything beyond direct eyewitness acounts from antiquity can be disregarded if it isn't corroborated by other sources and/or archaeological findings.

But it is corroborated!  That’s my point - If nonChristian (both Roman and Jewish) accounts are wrong, then why does Acts have the same objections being presented by nonbelievers as indicated in both the Roman and Jewish records?!

Doesn’t the fact that we have 3 differing historical groups (Christian/Roman/Jewish), who have no reason to agree on this subject, all agreeing on the nature of the argument, prove that these were indeed the arguments of that day?


I won't disagree with that. Just don't overtly rely on Tacitus alone in your argument. (Which is a bit on the trivial side, but that isn't that important.)
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« Reply #21 on: February 09, 2012, 07:40:20 pm »
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my point is that since Jesus was portrayed as someone well known to both the public and to the authorities (both Roman and Jewish), how could such a myth gain acceptance?  After all, would you buy into a story of a man who supposedly was well known yet no one you know had ever heard of him?  Now, such a tell might possibly sell in BFE, but not in Roman ruled towns that were hooked into the goings on.


How do you explain so many buying into the existence of a previously unknown gospel written down on golden plates never shown publicly?  The fact is that it's not at all uncommon historically for religions to grow quickly despite being considered a myth by the vast majority.  The rapid growth of Christianity in general, and the Pauline version of it in particular is but one example of many.
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« Reply #22 on: February 09, 2012, 07:43:22 pm »
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my point is that since Jesus was portrayed as someone well known to both the public and to the authorities (both Roman and Jewish), how could such a myth gain acceptance?  After all, would you buy into a story of a man who supposedly was well known yet no one you know had ever heard of him?  Now, such a tell might possibly sell in BFE, but not in Roman ruled towns that were hooked into the goings on.


How do you explain so many buying into the existence of a previously unknown gospel written down on golden plates never shown publicly?  The fact is that it's not at all uncommon historically for religions to grow quickly despite being considered a myth by the vast majority.  The rapid growth of Christianity in general, and the Pauline version of it in particular is but one example of many.

Except that the majority didn't consider the existence of a religious leader named Jesus (Christ) a myth.
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« Reply #23 on: February 09, 2012, 07:57:17 pm »
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I find it likely that there was a person or possibly an amalgamation of persons (there where a number of 'messiahs' at the time) on which the stories are based. How much of the account is accurate is uncertain, and the various miracle claims are particularly questionable.

Let me just say this out loud, 'cause I wanna get this straight...

So, you’re saying that Tacitus, who believed that Jesus existed and was executed by order of Pontius Pilatus…was full of crap?  I'm right about that, right? That's your story?

The man you just mocked, the nonChristian Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117), studied rhetoric in Rome to prepare for a career in law and politics…he was known to love hunting and the outdoors…he married the daughter of the famous general Agricola, …and started his career (probably the latus clavus, mark of the senator) under Vespasian…and around 81 or 82, under Titus, entered political life, as quaestor…and advanced steadily through the cursus honorum, becoming praetor in 88 and a quindecimvir…and was a member of the priest college in charge of the Sibylline Books and the Secular games…and gained acclaim as a lawyer and an orator…was known for his skill in public speaking…who from his seat in the Senate became suffect consul in 97 during the reign of Nerva, being the first of his family to do so…who during his tenure reached the height of his fame as an orator when he delivered the funeral oration for the famous veteran soldier Lucius Verginius Rufus…who prosecuted Marius Priscus, proconsul of Africa, for corruption and sent him into exile…who in 112 or 113AD held the highest civilian governorship, that of the Roman province of Asia in Western Anatolia…who authored such works as  De vita Iulii Agricolae (The Life of Agricola), De origine et situ Germanorum (Germania), Dialogus de oratoribus (Dialogue on Oratory),  Historiae (Histories), and Ab excessu divi Augusti (Annals)…

…you’re telling me that this man, my chief witness… considered to be the greatest Roman historian…just decided, out of the clear blue sky to get sloppy when reporting the origins of Christianity and the official actions of a Roman Procurator?

Let's examine a few things, shall we? First, the passage from the account given in Annals:

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"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, 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, 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."

Let's analyze the facts, shall we?

1. Tacitus was born around 56 AD, after the crucifixion would have taken place, so he wasn't an eyewitness. Therefore he had to get his information from other sources after the fact.

2. Annals was not written until about 116 AD. This is AFTER the gospels were in circulation. The singular mention of "Christus" in the account constitutes one sentence with only a brief summary of what happened to Jesus. No source for this information is given.

However, some scholars have pointed out that if Josephus had used official historical archives as his source he would have likely gotten Pontius Pilate's title correct - Pilate was a Prefect, not a Procurator. Interestingly the gospels have the same error. There is only a single sentence on the matter, and it could have easily been him simply echoing what Christians themselves had to say on the subject.

Also, it's clear that Tacitus doesn't think much about the importance of this "Christus", otherwise he would have given more information - rather the surrounding passages in question seem to be more about early Christians, which is where the real historical value of his work in the matter lie. But on the subject of Jesus there's no source and no information he couldn't have gotten directly from Christians themselves, so on the subject of the historicity of Jesus the passage is pretty much useless.

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I think your emotions have you in denial, sir.

Yeah, and you're perfectly calm, as indicated by your staunch defense of the historical veracity of a single sentence.
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The Mikado
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« Reply #24 on: February 09, 2012, 09:05:23 pm »
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Mikado, I'm interested in learning more about the Godfearers; do you know of any good academic texts on them, in a historical or theological context?

Neither Jew Nor Greek: Constructing Early Christianity by Judith Lieu is pretty good.  That book takes a glance at an issue I hadn't seen discussed before: how well would Gentiles who believed in the Jewish God but weren't willing to convert to the Jewish faith fit into Christianity? 

Godfearers have been something of a controversial topic because there's some controversy about just how many of the traditional model of a Godfearer sitting at the edge of the synagogue, eager to learn but unwilling to go the mile with circumcision and Jewish dietary law there actually were.  That said, even if the revisionist position that there were far fewer of them than were traditionally believed is correct, there were a larger group of people relatively familiar with Judaism and its doctrines thanks to the widespread publication of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) in the Roman Empire of the period, and quite a bit of public interest in this ancient, quirky faith.
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Einzige is a poltroon who cowardly turns down duel challenges he should be honor-bound to accept. The Code Duello authorizes you to mock and belittle such a pathetic honorless scoundrel.
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