We’re all at least partly familiar with the story of the death and resurrection of Yehoshua ha’Mashiach (Jesus the Christ). It occurred around 30 AD (give or take a few years; I used to believe it was 28 AD, but after the discovery of 29AD coins imprinted in the image on the Turin Shroud, I stand corrected). It is the centre of both the Christian and Messianic religions. Most historians accept Jesus’ existance as historical, and most also accept His crucifixion as historical.
That said, there is a growing movement today that claims that Jesus was a myth, or that the crucifixion was a myth, etc. And of course, outside of Christianity and Messianic Judaism, few accept the resurrection as genuine. Here, I present evidence corroborating the Biblical account.
I’ve previously documented some scientific evidence for the Crucifixion and Resurrection in Has Jesus’ Burial Shroud Been Found?.
First up, since it’s in the title, there’s the issue of Jesus’ empty tomb. There are at least two sites claiming to be the site of Yeshua’s tomb: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Garden Tomb.
The main problem with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the lack of supporting evidence. It’s built on the site of a pagan temple, which was in turn built on the site of an empty rock-cut tomb, which Constantine’s mother Helena identified as Yeshua’s empty. However, little evidence can be found for (or against) its identification. A very holy Christian site – but one that is entirely uncertain.
(Which refutes the claim by some that the earliest Apostles and Christians presumably carried the tradition of the tomb’s location, and identified it as the spot where the Church now is.)
Not so with the Garden Tomb, which is just around the corner from what is arguably Golgotha. Here’s Discovery World’s article:
“Come, see the place where the Lord lay . . . “
A VISIT TO THE GARDEN TOMB:
Some people think that Jesus was buried in the “Garden Tomb” just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Some dispute that Jesus was even buried for three days and three nights . . . and others question whether the “Garden Tomb” in Jerusalem is the actual burial place. Some say it doesn’t really matter.
LET’S TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT THE GARDEN TOMB!
#1 LOCATION: GOLGOTHA outside the city walls.
About 200 yards outside the walls of Jerusalem, near the Damascus Gate, there is a cliff area known as the Calvary Escarpment. In the side of the cliff, clearly visible is a rock formation that is called Golgotha, “the place of the skull.” One does not have to use his imagination to see the skull.
Just 100 yards to the west of Golgotha, is the location of an ancient tomb called the Garden Tomb, where most modern scholars believe Jesus Christ was placed after His crucifixion.
The Bible tells us that Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, took Jesus’ body and buried it in a new tomb nearby: “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, in which was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus, therefore, because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulcher was near at hand.” John 20:40-41
#2 SPLIT ROCKS:
The Rocks Were Split: Immediately to the right of the Garden Tomb and possibly below the crucifixion site, one can still see where the rocks were split wide open from an apparent earthquake . . . “Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks were split . . . ” Matthew 27:50-51
The Rocks Were Split by an Earthquake: The split rock is even more obvious from the top of the cliff. Can you imagine standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross when the earth would begin to shake and the rocks would split?
#3 A CLOSER LOOK INSIDE THE TOMB:
The description of the Garden Tomb that we find in the Bible is identical to what we find at the tomb outside the walls of Jerusalem!
PLAN OF THE GARDEN TOMB:
#1 The entrance into the tomb.
#2 Low threshold to the graves.
#3 Short, low walls open to the grave area.
#4 Finished burial place where Jesus was probably laid.
#5 “Pillow” cut into the rock.
#6 Weeping area.
#7 Rough, unfinished shelf.
#8 Unfinished grave area that was intended to accommodate several more members of a family.
#9 Small window.
When the three-day Sabbath days were ended (Passover, Unleavened Bread and the weekly Saturday Sabbath), two women who were some of Jesus’ faithful followers, came to the tomb to anoint the body.
Mark 16:4-5 – “And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away; for it was very great. And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man (an angel) sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment . . . “
Plan of the Garden Tomb:
When I visited the garden tomb several years ago, I immediately noticed that there there is no room to sit to the left . . . just a solid rock wall. The angel was thus sitting to the right. Mark 16:5 is a totally accurate report of what the women saw when they entered the tomb. The angel was apparently sitting on the top of the short rock wall at point #3 . . . or across on the top of the unfinished shelf at #7. Notice the iron fence that has now been erected to preserve this historical site.
Angel sitting in the Garden Tomb
The Biblical description of the tomb being hewn out of solid rock is also accurate! The Garden Tomb was so new that it was also UNFINISHED. The unfinished Garden Tomb Across from the place where a body would have been laid for embalment with the spices, one can see ledges that were being cut into the stone that would accommodate several more biers for additional family members. The tomb was so new that it appears to be unfinished.
Even the Biblical description of the resting place of Jesus’ body is accurate:
Jesus’ Resting Place in the Garden Tomb:
This was the burial tomb for a very wealthy family . . . notice the lower area on the right side of the resting spot . . . it was purposely cut lower like a shallow pool so that expensive liquid spices poured over the body would collect there and continue to wick up through the grave clothes, thereby preserving the entire body. The head was elevated so that it would not be submerged in the spices. Looking closely you can see what may be stains from the spices that Nicodemus brought when Jesus was placed into the tomb.
If the tomb had been used to preserve additional bodies, the stains would be much more obvious. The tomb was obviously never used again after Jesus’ resurrection.
Only the most wealthy families would have had such an elaborate tomb . . . and Joseph of Arimathaea was very wealthy . . . and a follower of Jesus:
Matthew 27:57-60 – “When the evening was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple; He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus . . . And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock.”
Scripture gives us another accurate report about the Garden Tomb: “But Mary stood outside of the sepulcher weeping; and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” John 20:11-12
Besides these descriptions of the interior of the tomb, the outside of the tomb is even more suggestive that this Garden Tomb was probably the burial place of Christ:
#4 A CLOSER LOOK AT THE OUTSIDE OF THE TOMB:
Most visitors that come to the Garden Tomb, which is located along the Calvary Escarpment outside the northern city walls of Jerusalem, may not notice a rusty iron pin embedded deeply into the rock. But that pin is quite significant from a historical and biblical perspective.
IRON PIN THAT SECURED THE TOMB:
Discovery News editor Chuck Anderson pointing at the iron pin inserted in the rock at the time of Jesus burial to make the grave “secure”. The Bible records that the chief priests came to Pontius Pilate the day after the crucifixion of Christ to request that the tomb be secured. They remembered that Christ had said He would be resurrected from the dead after the third day. Pilate’s response is found in Matthew 27:65-66 – “’Ye have a watch; go your way, make it as sure as ye can.’ So they went, and made the sepulchers sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.”
Not only were Roman soldiers assigned to guard the tomb to prevent anyone from stealing the body of Christ, an iron pin was inserted into the rock to prevent the huge 13-foot diameter stone from being rolled away from the opening of the grave.
When the women came to anoint the body of Christ on the first day of the week, they asked themselves who would roll the stone back for them. They had no idea what a difficult challenge that would be!
The iron pin was held securely into the rock by hot lead that had been poured into the hole that was drilled with a star bit. This was a common method used by the Romans to permanently fasten iron pins into stone. Iron and lead filings from that pin have been tested to confirm that the pin was authentic and inserted into the rock during the first century.
When an angel opened the tomb of Christ for all to see that it was empty, that iron pin was sheared right off. Engineers have calculated that it would take over 90 tons of pressure to move that rock and clip off that piece of solid iron!
This is more remarkable evidence of Jesus’ resurrection! He is alive, not because a pin is still in the rock, but because the Word of God says so!
You can see the pin just about three feet left of the door opening at the Garden Tomb. Look for it if you plan to visit Jerusalem! The Garden Tomb is located just outside the Damascus Gate.
THE ENTRY TO THE GARDEN TOMB:
As this picture shows, the entry to the Garden Tomb is low . . . visitors have to stoop down to enter or look in.
“But Mary stood outside of the sepulcher weeping; and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, here the body of Jesus had lain.” John 20:11-12
THE STONE ROLLED AWAY:
It should also be observed that the Garden Tomb shows evidence that a round, disc-like stone once sealed the entry. You can even see part of the original circular ring where the stone would have been. Notice the channel that the stone would have been rolled in and the flat surface of the exterior wall of the tomb.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE STONE?
It is very interesting that the stone that covered the Garden Tomb has been removed . . . perhaps a pharisee took it to make a large coffee table? (Well . . . probably not!) Typical Round Stone Used to Seal Ancient Tombs: Actually, there are numerous flat and round stones around Jerusalem that sealed ancient tombs.
OUT OF PLACE TOMB STONE:
There is one huge stone on the top of Mt. Nebo that fits the probable size and description of the one that would have covered the Garden Tomb. This stone seems strangely out of place on a mountain top 25 miles away from Jerusalem.
Some believe that the stone found at the monument to Moses at the top of Mount Nebo may indeed be the stone that originally sealed the Garden Tomb and was physically “rolled away” by the Angel of the Lord. Scripture even gives us a description of the stone that covered the tomb — “And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a GREAT STONE to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.” The world “great” is the Greek word “mega” which simply means extremely large . . . huge.
Perhaps the removal of the stone was an attempt to honor Moses rather than Jesus’ burial place and resurrection. It would appear that the “Garden Tomb” was all but buried and forgotten until being accidentally rediscovered by General Charles Gordon in the early 19th century!
Gordon was a well-known British retired military leader when he came to live near Jerusalem in 1882. He often visited the home of Horatio and Anna Spafford, founders of the American Colony.
From their quarters atop the northern wall of the Old City, Gordon had a view of a rocky escarpment in which he identified the features of a skull. He believe that this was the “Place of the Skull” as mentioned in the Scriptures.
Close by he found an ancient tomb which Gordon believed was the empty tomb of Christ . . . others must have seen it but ignored it for centuries.
Some time later, the property was purchased by a concerned group of Christians in England and the Garden Tomb Association was formed and they have maintained the Garden Tomb since.
The massive stone atop Mt. Nebo is definitely a stone that had to be carried there from some other location and was intended to seal a tomb . . . and there is no such tomb on the mountain top that has become a shrine unto Moses.
NOTE: The Garden Tomb, if it IS the actual burial place of the Savior, IS NOT A SHRINE nor is it an OBJECT TO BE WORSHIPED.
It just appears to be more evidence that the Lord Himself has preserved for the world to know that Jesus Christ is indeed risen from the dead!
Jesus’ resurrection is a great comfort and encouragement to those who have placed their faith in the Savior. If you have never prayed to acknowledge your sins and ask Him to be your personal Sacrificial Lamb and Savior, do it today!
And then there’s the historical attestations of Jesus’ existance, His death – and in some cases, His resurrection! Recall that some of these records were by UNBELIEVERS, so their record is quite significant.
Africanus (a believer) in his History of the World (c. 221 AD), records:
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun?
Let opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth—manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period.”
Note that he quotes earlier unbelieving historians who corroborated the events recorded the Gospels.
Tertullian (another believer) also wrote:
“And yet, nailed upon the cross, He exhibited many notable signs, by which His death was distinguished from all others. At His own free-will, He with a word dismissed from Him His spirit, anticipating the executioner’s work. In the same hour, too, the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives.”
Even the Talmud admits that Yeshua was crucified on “the Eve of Passover”. (Later Rabbinic tradition moved Passover from the 14th to the 15th. Yeshua was crucified on the 14th – REAL Passover – hence the description “Passover’s Eve”.)
From Nazarene Space:
Historical Evidence that Yeshua is Messiah
James Scott Trimm
Anti-Missionaries often claim that there is no historical evidence to support the Gospel accounts of Yeshua’s death, burial and resurrection. One anti-missionary said:
There were no records of earthquakes or darkness on the day
purported as the day of his crucifixion.
There was no tearing of the temple veil recorded
anywhere in history.
This is simply not true. In fact around 52 CE a secular writer Thallus tried to explain away the darkness at Yeshua’s crucifixion saying “this darkness as an eclipse of the sun”. This is of course an impossible explanation, because
astronomically a Solar eclipse can never take place at or around Passover.
Passover always occurs around the time of a full moon as it is the 14th day of the lunar month Nissan/Aviv, or fourteen days after the New Moon. A Full Moon only occurs when the earth is between the moon and sun. However a solar eclipse only occurs when the moon is between the earth and sun.
Thanks to Thallus, who wrote only twenty years after the events themselves, we know that just twenty years after the crucifixion, the “darkness” that occured was a historical fact that secular writers felt a need to try to explain away in some way.
Also the fourth century “Church Father” Jerome writes concerning The Gospel According to the Hebrews (a Gospel use by the ancient sect of the Nazarenes along side our familar four):
“But in the Gospel which is written in Hebrew characters we read not that the
veil of the Temple was rent, but that the lintel of the Temple of wondrous size was
broken and even forced asunder.”
(Jerome; Letter 120 to Hedibia; Jerome on Mat. 27:51)
Also in the Historia passionis Domini we read likewise:
“Also in the Gospel of the Nazarenes we read that at the time of Messiah’s death
the lintel of the Temple, of immense size, had split (Josephus says the same and
adds that overhead awful voices were heard which said: ‘Let us depart from this
(Historia passionis Domini; MS: Theolog. Sammelhandschrift 14th-15th Century, foll. 65r)
Jerome sees this split of the lintel as having taken place instead of the tearing of the veil. In fact the two events seem to go hand in hand. The lintel was a crossbeam over the doorway to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The lintel stood
atop pillars eight stories high which formed this doorway. The lintel was some thirty feet across and made of solid stone. It would have weighed about 30 tons! At the death of Yeshua there was an earthquake. This earthquake caused the lintel to split, breaking in the middle. It would have been no small event when the two pieces of this thirty ton lintel came crashing down eight stories! The veil hung from the lintel and the hekel doors were attached to the pillars. When the lintel broke it caused the veil to be rent in two from top to bottom. (In the Jewish culture it is common for a father to morn the death of his son by renting his garment in just such a fashion.) This colapse of the lintel seems to have damaged the hekel doors as well. The Talmud states:
[For] forty years before the Temple was destroyed…
the gates of the Hekel opened by themselves.
until Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai rebuked them
saying “Hekel, Hekel, why alarm you us? We know
that you are destined to be destroyed. For of you
has prophesied Zechariah Ben Iddo (Zech. 11:1):
“Open your doors, O Lebanon and the fire shall
eat your cedars.”
Thus we have historical evidences that at the crucifixion of Yeshua the sky was darkened so that the sun gave no light, a great earthquake occurred causing the lintel to collapse, renting the Temple veil and damaging The Hekel gates so
that they fell open by themselves during the last forty years of the Temple (about 30 C.E. to 70 C.E.) just as the Gospels record!
[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.
Josephus, 1st-century AD Jewish historian, wrote:
“Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was 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 amongst 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 from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Antiquities 18.3.3)
Many charge that this passage is forged. However, to date, NO-ONE has proved ANY proof of forgery, NOT EVEN MILDLY CONVINCING EVIDENCE!!! They literally argue, “Well, the text looks just as complete without it as with it [or something along those lines], so it must have been added.” And this BASELESS argument has led to many dismissing Josephus’ quote out of hand as a forgery. Quora user Ben Stevens gives an interesting defense of the passage:
Having read all of Josephus’ works, I can say confidently this passage fits his style. Moreover, those who would assert this passage is a forgery due to it supposedly interrupting the narrative fail to take account the many times Josephus interrupts his own narrative. Josephus loved to go on tangents as evident in several passages including to appease his tyrants:
“But one may well be astonished at the generosity of Vespasion and Titus, that after so great wars and contests which they had from us, they should use such moderation. But I will now return to that part of my history whence I made the present digression.” (Antiquities 12.3.2)
Josephus also breaks narrative to explain the Pharisees and Sadducees when the narrative reaches that period (Antiquities 13.10.6). So we cannot call forgery here simply because Josephus breaks the flow of his story once more. Besides, writers are fully capable of interrupting themselves in general beyond appealing to the textual evidence itself.
With that objection out of the way the forgery theory breaks down completely. For all other objections can be settled by either editing or interpolations rather than insertion. And beyond “if indeed it be lawful to call him a man” virtually every other example of supposed interpolation is better explained as slight editing. Jerome’s copy of Josephus said “He was believed to be Christ” rather than “He was the Christ.” This coheres with Josephus’ later, undisputed reference to Jesus in James’ death as the “brother of Jesus, the so called Christ.”
Moreover, even the resurrection proclamation is in an Arabic variation of the passage where the manuscript renders it a “report” heard later. Taking away the resurrection claim entirely leaves an awkward ending as Josephus asserts in wonder Christians “are not extinct after this day” with no explanation. One scholar criticized John Meier’s traditional rendering of the passage for lacking the resurrection. Goldberg states:
“The argument from Christian content cannot distinguish the type of alteration that occurred to the passage. It is much simpler for a later scribe to delete the words “they reported” than to insert an entire sentence in Josephus’ style. The Christian content can as well be explained as deriving from Josephus’ source as from a later forger….The low christological content of the Testimonium as a whole is not altered by retaining the resurrection passage. The beliefs of his contemporary Christians argue for the necessity for the inclusion of such a passage by Josephus; excluding it results in paradox.” (Goldberg, CMMJ)
Beyond the resurrection, Meier’s analysis of the passage is mostly correct and has been embraced by the majority of experts. Meier pointed out measuring the vocabulary of Josephus’ whole work proves this passage resembles his style in almost every detail, including the resurrection claim ironically (Goldberg, CMMJ, and see Meier, MJ, 62-63).
Now what about the other points? We should first quote another important passage by Josephus on John the Baptist:
“Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death.”(Antiquities 18.5.2)
Some points to be made about this passage. Of course it shows Josephus independently proves John’s existence as well, his call for baptism, and his death by Herod. However Josephus contradicts the Gospels in claiming: (1) He was executed at Macherus, (2) His baptism was for cleanliness and specifically NOT for the “remission of sins,” (3) Herod feared John’s popularity as the cause for his death rather than the daughter of his wife demanding it.
Now truth be told (3) is not really a contradiction. Herod could have had many reasons to fear John both the gospels and Josephus compliment one another. But the location of his death and, especially, his baptism’s purpose are irreconcilable contradictions. Josephus also talks more about John than Jesus and places John AFTER Jesus in his narrative.
Such differences make little sense if we are to believe these Christian scribes were actively and intentionally shaping the text to their desires. Why do they not make it cohere with the New Testament in all other passages? Even in its current form, Josephus has remarkably little to say about Jesus. As Meier argues, it’s inconceivable to imagine scribes inserting whole new passages or interpolations into Josephus on Jesus and just letting Josephus contradict the gospels everywhere else (Meier, MJ, 66). John is not even connected to Jesus in Josephus!
Therefore, Josephus’ passage is accepted as mostly authentic by almost all scholars. Even such skeptics as Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan accept it as evidence for Jesus (Ehrman, JAPNM, 62, Crossan, J, 163-164).
The Jewish NT scholar Geza Vermes even points out the words Josephus uses to describe Jesus’s miracles are characteristic only of an early Jewish usage for miracles not something late Gentiles scribes would know. Thus Vermes says:
“When rabbinic tradition attempts to define Hanina, it refers to him as a ‘man of deed’….It is also noteworthy that in the Testimonium of Josephus, Jesus is portrayed as a ‘wise man’ and the performer of ‘marvellous deeds’. Both epithets, especially the latter, fit so well into the historical context that their invention or interpolation into the account by a later Christian forger is unlikely.” (Vermes, JJ, 79)
So what sources would Josephus use for this narrative? Goldberg argued the Testimonium is parallel to Luke’s Emmaus story of the resurrection Jesus arguing for a common source between the two writers (Goldberg, CMMJ). But he has not persuaded his peers.
Like most ancient writers, Josephus rarely mentions his specific sources. But being a political writer committed by Rome and from the Jewish angle, Josephus would certainly have access to independent sources than the gospels. And Josephus despised the use of hearsay rumors for any history. In his biography, Josephus chastised another Jewish historian Justus for writing about the Jewish War after the main first hand sources were dead to verify his account:
“And now I am come to this part of my narration. I have a mind to day a few things to Justus, who hath himself written a history concerning these affairs; as also to others who profess to write history, but have little regard to truth, and are not afraid…to relate falsehoods. These men do like those who compose forged deeds and conveyances; and because they are not brought to the like punishment with them, they have no regard to truth.” (Josephus, LFJ, 65.336-337)
So…yes…in all probability Josephus (1) Mentioned Jesus, (2) Said he was known as a wise teacher, (3) Said he was known as a miracle worker, (4) Said he was crucified by Pilate and the Jewish high priests (i.e. “principal men amongst us…”), (5) Said he was called the Christ in his lifetime, (6) Said his disciples did not cease believing in him after his death (which would also corroborate Paul and Acts that Jesus’s disciples became teachers and missionaries known in the churches for the gospel writers to have direct access too), (7) Said he was reported to have raised from the dead according to claims of prophecy fulfillment, (8) He drew crowds to him including Gentiles, and (9) Said he had a brother named James who was put to death in Jerusalem.
(7) might be the only point questioned by most scholars though. But if you want a short summary by a scholar:
“It may be said, however, that Josephus bears witness to Jesus’s date, to his being the brother of James the Just, to his reputation as a miracle-worker, to his crucifixion under Pilate as a consequence of charges brought against him by the Jewish rulers, to his claim to be the Messiah, and to his being the founder of the ‘tribe of Christians.'” (Bruce, JCOONT, 40-41)
Mark Powell gives the traditional rendition of the passage most scholars accept (barring the resurrection):
” ‘At this time there appeared Jesus a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive truth with pleasure. He gained a following both among Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of the accusation made by leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had lived him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) has not died out.’
Even without the Christian interpolations, this quote is surprisingly friendly. Josephus obviously thought well of Jesus, regarding him as one who taught the truth.” (Powell, JFH, 32-33)
Frankly this one passage is more than enough by itself even barring the whole bible to prove Jesus EXISTED. The Jesus myth will forever be a conspiracy theory and deserves that sort of academic mockery.
In response to the same question Matthew Hogan gives a smashing answer:
Probably the best single-piece of evidence is the work of the Roman Emperor Julian, aka Julian the Apostate (b. 330 C.E. — d. 363 C.E.).
Flavius Claudius Iulianus (Julian “the Apostate”), reigned 361–363 C.E.
While there is a lot of other very very good multiple sets of evidence and sources and logical deductions for the life of a religious figure Jesus of Nazareth circa 30 CE, Julian may have put forth the best single go-to item of evidence for there having been an actual historic Jesus of Nazareth.
Julian as Emperor rejected the newly dominant religion of Christianity and fiercely sought to discredit and to reverse its influence. He wrote and/or commissioned an entire treatise rather savagely disparaging Christianity and its founder Jesus, with intent to discredit the religion, using the extant historic record from the first century to his time.
But in doing so he never disputed Jesus’ historical existence and even somewhat separately offered to prove it.
Julian wrote a book (Contra Galileos) which is not challenged as to its authenticity though it only survives in quotings and copies of major portions of it by Christian adversaries, as well as smaller fragments.
In the book, he ridicules Christian believers and the alleged miracles, divine status, and wisdom of Jesus that are claimed for him by Christians. But there is no assertion or even hint made by Julian that Jesus the individual never was.
Why is that important & powerful evidence?
SLIGHT EDIT: Because he was a lot closer in time to the time of Jesus, living before the barbarian ravagings of Rome and the final collapse of the western empire (and the destruction/loss of record and literature collections like the Alexandria’s Library etc.), and he had access to and power over all the still extant rumors, hard record-keeping, and broad literature of the Roman Empire, including all the earlier texts often cited separately and together by all sides of the debate on Jesus’ existence today. And he had every motive to use any evidence or even credible speculation that was or had been going around throwing doubt on the real existence of Jesus of Nazareth.
All he had to do, if such was the case, was to assert the absence of likely official records or accounts or reports about Jesus. Or cite the presence of credible contemporary arguments and primary reports questioning Jesus’s existence, or even pass along viable rumors. Such steps would fire a powerful solid direct arrow of doubt at the new religion whose discrediting was a major, even central, issue for him.
And he had the resources to do that effort. He was, after all, the Emperor of a still-unified Roman Empire which had not seen the heavy destructions of later centuries. He had access to imperial documentation, archives, great ancient libraries and so forth.
But when addressing and challenging his own Christian contemporaries, he ridicules Jesus as a charlatan and as someone of little greatness or worth or note, but he doesn’t even remotely question Jesus’ factual existence.
At one point, this ancient Roman anti-Christian researcher-writer even offers to independently prove Jesus was real:
Even Jesus, who was proclaimed among you, was one of Caesar’s subjects. And if you do not believe me I will prove it a little later, or rather let me simply assert it now. However, you admit that with his father and mother he registered his name in the governorship of Cyrenius.
Further, he ridicules Jesus and Paul for being insignificant, and rather dishonest, preachers, and Julian then explicitly employs and endorses the process of critically reviewing and assessing contemporary documentary evidence specifically in order to ascertain the status and impact of Jesus and early followers. This indicates he was conscious of, and favorable towards, using methods of contemporary document research in disputes about Jesus. And that is precisely what modern skeptics argue as good and even the vital methodology to use for analysis today —though with less documentation available to today’s disputants.
But when doing this method, Julian doesn’t at all conclude or contend from it that Jesus or Paul was fictional: he merely says the two were just fools from the backwater misleading other ignorant lower-class fools and of course— as he expresses further down below in the spirit of 4th century patriarchy — those gullible womenfolk.
Yet Jesus, who won over the least worthy of you, has been known by name for but little more than three hundred years: and during his lifetime he accomplished nothing worth hearing of, unless anyone thinks that to heal crooked and blind men and to exorcise those who were possessed by evil demons in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany can be classed as a mighty achievement.
Julian thus argues that Jesus and Paul were obscure and of very low impact, and not likely to have created much of a buzz in their day, but not at all imaginary.
As for purity of life you do not know whether he so much as mentioned it; but you [Christians of Julian’s era] emulate the rages and the bitterness of the Jews [towards idols], overturning temples and altars, in the same fashion as yourselves. But these are rather your own doings; for nowhere did either Jesus or Paul hand down to you such commands.
Julian thus argues here that they (Jesus and Paul) were actual independent people from their movement and who may have spoken differently from their followers. In short, they were real people.
The movement didn’t invent them or their original ideas. They had agency, as it is termed today.
Julian: The reason for this is that they never even hoped that you would one day attain to such power as you have; for they were content if they could delude maidservants and slaves, and through them the women, and men like Cornelius and Sergius. But if you can show me that one of these men is mentioned by the well-known writers of that time, – these events happened in the reign of Tiberius or Claudius, – then you may consider that I speak falsely about all matters.
Notice here that to discredit Jesus and Paul, he is again not questioning they existed (“these events happened” not “were alleged to have happened”}. And it clearly would have been to his advantage to make such an argument if it had any credible legs to stand on from the Roman documentation available to an emperor or even just by general logic.)
Instead, in terms of Jesus (and Paul’s) presence in history, Julian is just arguing that they were no big deal and wouldn’t rate, didn’t rate, and shouldn’t have rated any contemporary first-century chatter.
The fact that he confidently challenges his rival Christians regarding the literature of Jesus’ time suggests a solid broad familiarity with the documentation about Jesus from Jesus’ day. And Julian had far more primary literature available to him then than we do now. Someone would not make such a dare unless he’d done heavy homework in the documentation and literature of Jesus’ time.
Julian’s work is therefore a hostile, informed, ancient authority supporting the argument that a mere lack of very much immediate contemporary biographical evidence – a big obsessional point made by modern “skeptics”/”mythicists” – is not likely to be proof of non-existence.
Rather it is just strong proof or evidence of the relative obscurity of the historic Jesus (and Paul) in their original time.
Now, there are elsewhere in the fuller record of history, outside and before Julian, heaps and piles of corroborating primary and secondary evidence over time and/or supportive logic about the existence of a historical figure named Jesus (see some other Quora answers on this, for starters).
But perhaps the “best evidence”, as in found conveniently in one place, may simply be that the guy who had:
a) full access to the best independent primary record evidence of and argumentation about Jesus, and
b) full access to the same ancient sources that are kicked around in modern day debate (with far more material and information still extant in his day), and
c) every motivation to use against Christianity and its founder(s) whatever facts and arguments he could find in all that,
nevertheless he — the very capable and very anti-Christian Emperor Julian — never once, as far as we can tell, brought up the question of whether the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth existed at all.
Further, he even somewhat offers at one point to independently prove that Jesus DID exist historically, and in a specific personal legal status as a subject of Caesar.
Julian’s work is one-stop shopping for the entire historical Jesus evidence debate. His commentary and analysis is from someone who had access to far far more primary and contemporary reams of data and stacks of argumentation than we have today.
And the motive to use any and all credible negative arguments he could find there about Jesus of Nazareth.
If anyone would have had knowledge of any coherent total or partial usable or valid evidence, or even valid speculation, of Jesus of Nazareth’s historical non-existence, and would have the overriding interest and broad resources to broadcast that fact loud and clear in a published work, it would have been Emperor Julian.
But he never went there.
We can dismiss anyone and any claims that make out Jesus to be a myth – THEY are the real mythmakers. And enough of the above evidence suggests that He WAS crucified (with some confirming a possible resurrection). And we have PHYSICAL evidence of His resurrection (and if one counts the Turin Shroud, physical evidence of His death), refuting those who believe Him to be historical, but claim the crucifixion and/or resurrection is a myth. There is simply no historical evidence to support those theories.
(And no, “Akashic records” aren’t evidence, as there’s no evidence they even exist, and they contradict VERIFIABLE HISTORY. They don’t contradict myth and legend – they contradict FACT. It’s verifiable historical fact, versus the claims of New Age gurus. And considering how the “records” produced by different people contradict each other, I think that makes it even easier to dismiss.)
A final piece of evidence: the James Ossuary, a 1st-century AD Jewish bone box with the inscription Ya’akov bar Yosef achui diYeshua, literally James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.
Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University stated that, other than James Ossuary, only one has been found so far in thousands of ossuaries, which contains a reference to a brother, concluding that “there is little doubt that this [naming a brother or son] was done only when there was a very meaningful reason to refer to a family member of the deceased, usually due to his importance and fame.” He produced a statistical analysis of the occurrence of these three names in ancient Jerusalem and projected that there were 1.71 people named James, with a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus, living in Jerusalem around the time at which the ossuary was produced.
In short, if authentic, this is FINAL, ABSOLUTE PROOF of Jesus’ existance, and of His significance. And the evidence strongly implies that the box is authentic – as is the inscription (despite the Israeli Antiquities Authority’s attempts to dismiss it – which has blown up in their face).
The James Ossuary came from the Silwan area in the Kidron Valley, southeast of the Temple Mount. The bones originally inside the ossuary had been discarded, which is the case in nearly all ossuaries not discovered by archaeologists. The first-century origin of the ossuary is not in question, since the only time Jews buried in that fashion was from approximately 20 BC to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The dispute centres on the date of origin of the inscription.
According to André Lemaire, the Parisian epigrapher initially invited by antiquities dealer Oded Golan to view the ossuary in Golan’s apartment, the cursive Aramaic script is consistent with first-century lettering. He determined that the inscription was not incised with modern tools, as it contains no elements not available in the ancient world. The first part of the inscription, “James son of Joseph,” seems more deeply incised than the latter “brother of Jesus.” This may be due to the inscription being made at a different time, or due to differences in the hardness of the limestone.
The fragile condition of the ossuary attests to its antiquity. The Israel Geological Survey submitted the ossuary to a variety of scientific tests, which determined that the limestone of the ossuary had a patina or sheen consistent with being in a cave for many centuries. The same type of patina covers the incised lettering of the inscription as the rest of the surface. It is claimed that if the inscription were recent, this would not be the case.[page needed]
On June 18, 2003 the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) published a report concluding that the inscription is a modern forgery based on their analysis of the patina. Specifically, it claimed that the inscription was added in modern times and made to look old by addition of a chalk solution. In 2006, Wolfgang Elisabeth Krumbein, a world’s renowned expert in stone patinas called by the defense counsel, analyzed the ossuary, and concluded that “the inscription is ancient and most of the original patina has been removed (by cleaning or use of sharp implement)”. He further noted in his report, “any forgery of three very distinct types of patina, if ever possible, requires the development of ultra-advanced techniques, in-depth knowledge and extensive collaboration of a large number of experts from various fields”. According to his analysis, the patina inside the inscription took at least 50 years to form; thus, if it is a forgery, then it was forged more than 50 years ago.
In 2004, an analysis of the ossuary’s petrography and oxygen isotopic composition was conducted by Avner Ayalon, Miryam Bar-Matthews and Yuval Goren. They compared the δ18O values of the letters patina from the James Ossuary, with the patina sampled from the uninscribed surfaces of the same item (“surface patina”), and with surface and letters patinas from legally excavated ossuaries from Jerusalem. Their study undermined the authenticity contention of the ossuary. However, Dr James Harrell, professor of Archaeological Geology at the University of Toledo, provided an explanation for this δ18O discrepancy. He suggested that a cleanser may have been the source of the low δ18O readings, which antiquities dealers and collectors often use to clean the artifacts to increase value. He tested the most popular cleanser sold in Israel and confirmed that the δ18O value of the cleanser was consistent with the δ18O value of the patina in the inscription.
In 2008, an archaeometric analysis conducted by Amnon Rosenfeld, Howard Randall Feldman, and Wolfgang Elisabeth Krumbein strengthened the authenticity contention of the ossuary. It found that patina on the ossuary surface matched that in the engravings, and that microfossils in the inscription seemed naturally deposited.
Then the IAA tried to muddy everything:
Limor Livnat, Israeli Minister of Culture, mandated the work of a scientific commission to study the suspicious finds. IAA began an investigation into the affair. The James Ossuary was authentic—albeit unusual in shape—but they claimed the inscription was a fake.
However, in an external expert report, dated September 2005, Wolfgang E. Krumbein entered the controversy. His conclusions contradict those of the IAA stating “Our preliminary investigations cannot prove the authenticity of the three objects beyond any doubt. Doubtlessly the patina is continuous in many places throughout surface and lettering grooves in the case of ossuary and tablet. On the other hand a proof of forgery is not given by the experts nominated by the IAA.”
The Israeli Antiquities Authority has failed to offer any report explaining why it concluded the ossuary is a forgery. Unsurprisingly, international experts are unable to give their opinions on the ossuary’s authenticity until the IAA allows scholars to review its findings.
Edward John Keall, the Senior Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Near Eastern & Asian Civilizations Department, continues to argue for the ossuary’s authenticity, saying “the ROM has always been open to questioning the ossuary’s authenticity, but so far no definitive proof of forgery has yet been presented, in spite of the current claims being made.”
The Biblical Archaeology Review also continued to defend the ossuary. In articles in the February 2005 issues, several paleographic experts argue that the James Ossuary is authentic and should be examined by specialists outside of Israel. Another article claims the cleaning of the James Ossuary before it was examined may have caused the problem with the patina. On June 13, 2012 a Biblical Archaeology Review press release announced the first major post-trial analysis of the ossuary, discussing the plausibility of its authenticity and using statistical analysis of ancient names to suggest that in contemporary Jerusalem, there would be 1.71 people named James with a father Joseph and a brother named Jesus.
BAR Magazine ran the following article:
The “forgery trial of the century” has all but blown up. The trial judge who will decide the case—there are no juries in Israel—has told the prosecution to consider dropping the case. “Not every case ends in the way that you think it will when you start,” Judge Aharon Farkash told prosecutor Adi Damti in open court. “Maybe we can save ourselves the rest,” the judge told her.
The story was reported by Matthew Kalman in the San Francisco Chronicle, and from there around the world. He described Judge Aharon Farkash’s evaluation as a “humiliating collapse” of the government’s case and “a major embarrassment … for the [Israel] Antiquities Authority.”
The government’s star witness, Yuval Goren, former chairman of Tel Aviv University’s institute of archaeology, was forced to admit on cross-examination that there is original ancient patina in the word “Jesus,” the last word in the inscription that reads “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
Recent events have also proved humiliating for the IAA in connection with the committee it appointed that supposedly came to a unanimous decision that the inscription is a forgery. In fact, several members of the committee expressed no opinion—but the IAA counted them as “yes” votes. Several other members of the committee based their vote not on their own expertise, but on Yuval Goren’s supposed expertise, which they were in no position to evaluate. One member of the committee who would have found the inscription authentic said he was “forced” to change his mind based on Goren’s scientific arguments.
No paleographer expert in the script of this period has found any paleographical problem with the inscription. And several scientists at the trial have undermined Goren’s scientific arguments. No other scientist has supported Goren’s arguments.
BAR has consistently supported the authenticity of the inscription, as have leading paleographers André Lemaire of the Sorbonne and Ada Yardeni of Hebrew University. All appear now to be vindicated.
Quite simply put: it’s authentic, and we have (more) PROOF of the historical Yeshua/Jesus.
The Gospel accounts of Yehoshua ha’Mashiach’s (Jesus the Christ’s) life – in particular His death and resurrection (and by extension His existance) have been vindicated. The question is: What will you do with this information?