Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jesus Outside the New Testament Part I: Roman Sources

The following material was extracted from a web sight that is no longer available. Most of the scholars that are included are liberal which adds weight and significance to the evidence. The original author is unknown.

(1) Tombs, Ordinances and Graffiti
Tomb Inscriptions - late 30's C.E.?
"Several of the tombs in the Dominus Flevit ['the Lord wept'] catacombs outside Jerusalem bear inscriptions like, 'Jesus, have mercy', and 'Jesus, remember me in the resurrection', inscriptions thought to date from the 40's or late 30's, and indicating the presence in Jerusalem from a fairly early date of a community that believed in resurrection and in the power of someone named Jesus to see the believer safely through death and beyond."
- Alan Millard,
Discoveries From the Time of Jesus
The tombs were discovered during the rebuilding of a Franciscan chapel and excavated from 1953 to 1955.
"A tomb of the Late Bronze period gave finds which are important for the civilization of Jerusalem just at the time of its conquest by the Hebrews. A necropolis used from 136 BC to 300 AD produced a great amount of material. The necropolis had two periods each with different styles and cultures. The first, the earlier is characterized by Kokhim (oven-shaped) tombs running from 185 BC, while the second is characterized by tombs with an arcosolium belonging to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. With the Kokhim tombs are closely connected the sarcophagus and the ossuary; the first cut in hard stone (mizzi) follow the motifs of classical art, both in structure and subject, in close artistic relation with the Tombs of the kings and 'Herod's' of the 1 cent. AD; the ossuaries, on the other hand in soft stone (kacooley) follow a local trade technique with architectonic and floral motifs.
"On the ossuaries were found many more or less symbol signs (crosses, tau, Constantinian monograms) and 43 inscriptions (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) incised or traced with charcoal. Of interest is the recurrence of names common in the New Testament, as Mary, Martha, Philo the Cyrene, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus."
Dominus Flevit the site where "The Lord Wept"
Caesar's Decree - c. 50 C.E.
"A stone slab found in Nazareth, of height 0.61m is inscribed (in Greek) with a decree demanding the death penalty for anyone who broke the seals on a tomb or stole a dead body." (Attributed date c. 50 C.E.)
- Summarized extract -
IVP Three Volume Bible Dictionary (under section for Nazareth)
"It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain undisturbed in perpetuity for those who have made them for the cult of their ancestors, or children, or members of their house. If, however, any man lay information that another has either demolished them, or has in any other way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them to other places in order to wrong them, or has displaced the sealing or other stones, against such a one I order that a trial be instituted, as in respect of the gods, so in regard to the cult of mortals. For it shall be much more obligatory to honour the buried. Let it be absolutely forbidden for anyone to disturb them. In the case of contravention I desire that the offender be sentenced to capital punishment on charge of violation of sepulture."
- Ordinance of Caesar
"The Emperor threatens the death penalty for interference with, or the removal of bodies from, tombs, may belong to any date from Augustus to Claudius."
- Summarized extract -
Peakes Commentary of the Bible
(Various sections found from index under Claudius' expulsion of Jews from Rome and Tombs, sanctity of.)
The original owner of the stone left only a short note about its origins when he donated it to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris - "Marble slab sent from Nazareth in 1878."
"Nazareth may be the place, but the finder could have carried it there from somewhere else, a few days' donkey journey away, wanting to sell it to Christian pilgrims. Since the nature of the connection with Nazareth is uncertain, no argument linking the stone with the early Christians can rely on its. Unless the stone was set up on Judaea and moved northwards later, Pontius Pilate cannot have had it made, because Galilee was in the kingdom of Herod Antipas, where Pilate had no power. Indeed, even a decree of Caesar would hardly be displayed in Galilee until after Antipas' reign ended in AD 44. That means it is possible that Claudius made the decree."
- Alan Millard,
Discoveries From the Time of Jesus
"Why would a Caesar have any cause to take such a specific interest in this part of the Empire and in a matter which, apparently, not an issue of Roman state? Surely this would seem to be better resolved by local Government and not one to demand the intervention of the Emperor. However, if the implications of any such alleged activity had affected Rome that would make it more understandable."
- Mark Carlin
Chrestus, the Instigator - 50 C.E.
"Expulsion of Jews from Rome reported by Suetonius (Claud. 25.) and Orosius (Hist. VII, vi, 15) . Orosius puts this in Claudius' ninth year, 25th Jan. AD 49 - 24th Jan. AD 50. The later claiming to have extracted the date from Josephus, however, our copies of Josephus do not contain such an entry. Claudius had expelled from Rome the Jews who were 'incessantly causing tumults with
Chrestus as the instigator'."
- Summarized extract -
Peakes Commentary of the Bible:
"Since the Jews were constantly causing disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome."
- Suetonius,
Lives of the Caesars - Claudius 5.25.4 (c. 120 CE)
"The Emperor Claudius, around the year 49-50, expelled the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2) because (says Suetonius) they were fomenting disorder at the instigation of one Chrestos. It seems plausible that there were disputes in Rome between Jews who believed that the body of Jesus was missing from the tomb because he had risen, and Jews who believed that it had been stolen. When these disputes caused public disorder, Claudius (or his deputy) made inquiries, expelled both sides from the city (after the manner of a parent who, when two children are fighting over a toy, takes it away from both of them for the time being), and then ordered a stern decree against grave-robbing to be promulgated at the places where the disturbance had begun. Presumably these would include at least (1) Jerusalem, where the alleged corpse-snatching had taken place, and (2) Nazareth, the home town of the alleged corpse."
- James Kiefer
"The report that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in A.D. 41 because they were, 'at the instigation of Chrestus, repeatedly rioting,' probably refers to some local troublemaker."
- Morton Smith,
Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God? (1978) p. 66
"A short note on the name 'Chrestus': From the examination of the Greek for Chrestus and Christos I have observed that the former is a common slave name which has the basic meaning of 'good' and the latter derived from the rare Greek word (rare or just closest?) 'to anoint' and thus Christos is the best match for the Aramaic word 'messiah' - which also, essentially means 'anointed one' with the Jewish associations of king, etc. What may be important is that while both names basically mean something different from each other they are, I have read, phonetically the same."
- Mark Carlin
"'Chrestus' is the correct Latin form of a very common Greek name and is not a misspelling, but some scholars believe that Seutonius meant to use 'Christos' instead. One problem with this (if indeed Seutonius was referring to Christ) is that the context of the passage suggests that someone named Chrestus was living in Rome at the time, a century after Jesus. Kee and Wells get around this problem by assuming that Seutonius was referring to Christian preachers who were announcing that the Messiah in Jesus was coming. Kee (Jesus in History) also adds that Suetonius may have had his dates confused and was instead referring to the actual disturbances that occurred during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE). Wells (The Jesus of the Early Christians) is not as generous and sticks closer to the known in that 'Chrestus' was probably an agitator who emerged from the Roman ghetto proclaiming himself as the Messiah. Messianic fervor ran high during the time of the fall of Jerusalem (70 CE) and this is a highly likely explanation. In any case, it is very difficult to construe from Suetonius anything that even remotely speaks to the historicity of Jesus."
- James Still, "Biblical and Extrabiblical Sources for Jesus"
"Could it be that the expulsion of the "Jews" (which might include any associated bickering faction) was as a result of a dispute in which one party had claimed that a grave had been robbed? In my mind, both Aquina and Priscilla were Christian before they were expelled from Rome (though I know this is debated) and migrated to Corinth (Acts). Also, when Paul first visited Rome he was greeted by the 'brethren' (in Acts) which again leads me to the opinion that Rome had Christians from a very early date.
"If there is connection between Suetonius' report and the archaeological find in Galilee (and I realize that this is speculative) it raises a distinct possibility that the early critics of Christianity held the view that the Christian claim to a resurrection was a false claim and that the earlier movement had themselves removed the body of the dead Jesus. Also, that the charge was so strongly held and expressed that a tumulus of such magnitude arose which led Caesar Claudius to expel the lot of them rather than risk riots in the streets of Rome."
- Mark Carlin
Thallus' Eclipse - 52 C.E.
A "passage on Jesus was contained in Thallus' work on the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to 52 A.D. Thallus noted that darkness fell on the land at the time of the crucifixion. He wrote that such a phenomenon was caused by an eclipse."
- Harry V. Martin. "
Proving the Historic Jesus"
According to McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, "Thallus, a Samaritan-born historian mentioned Christ in 52 C.E. However his works are no longer extant, so we have only citations of it by others...Julius Africanus, a Christian writing about 221, says, talking about the darkness that fell when Christ was crucified, 'Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun -- unreasonably, as it seems to me.' (It is unreasonable because the crucifixion was at Passover, which is based on the lunar calendar and requires a full moon. When there's a full moon, the moon is at the opposite side of the earth from where it has to be for an eclipse.)".
"Phelgon, another first-century historian, is also quoted by Africanus as saying 'during the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon'. Phelgon's comment (presumably the same one) is also referred to by Philopon."
- James Kiefer
Mara's Letter - c. 73 C.E.
"What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given."
- Mara bar Serapion, letter to his son from prison
According to F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (p. 114), the Mara bar Serapion letter was " written some time later than A. D. 73, but how much later we cannot be sure." Written in Syriac, this letter may actually have originated in the 2nd or 3rd century C.E. The "wise king" is not identified by Mara bar Serapion and may have lived in the same time frame as Socrates and Pythagoras - half a millenium earlier than Jesus.
"The Bible itself recorded the political assassinations of Jewish royalty that occurred close enough to Nebuchadnezzar's capture of Jerusalem [586 B.C.E.] to consider the conquest of either Israel or Judea as an event that had happened 'just after' the murder of one of these kings. Josiah's father, King Amon, for example, was assassinated less than 50 years before Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:23)."
- Farrell Till, "
The 'Testimony' of Mara Bar-Serapion"
"Amon's officials conspired against him and assassinated the king in his palace."
- 2 Kings 21:23
It should also be noted that the letter contains an historical inaccuracy. Pythagoras was not burned by the men of Samos but died later in Metapontum (contemporary Metaponto), Italy.
 Magical Gems and Graffiti - c. 200 C.E.
"...Already in Jesus' lifetime magicians began to use his name in their spells. Acts 19.13 shows that the practice was continued, even by Jewish magicians, after his death. Accordingly, of the three oldest representations of the crucifixion, two are on magical gems..."

"Perhaps the earliest of all representations of the crucifixion is a graffito, a picture scratched on the plaster of a schoolroom on the Palatine hill in Rome. It shows a crucified figure seen from behind. The feet rest on a small crossbar, the head is turned to one side. On that side, slightly below, stands a young man, one hand raised in reference. A misspelled Greek inscription reads 'Alexamenos reveres God.' The date is about 200, possibly a bit before...But the head of the crucified figure is that of a donkey.
"There was a long standing legend that the god of the Jews was a donkey, or donkey-headed. The legend probably arose from the fact that the donkey was the sacred animal of Seth, the villain in the Egyptian pantheon, who was commonly thought by the Egyptians to be the god of foreigners. He was also, being a villain, given a large role in magic, and often appears as a donkey-headed figure on magical gems. The Jews were among the largest groups of foreigners in Egypt, so their god, Iao, was identified with Seth.
Io or Eio in Coptic means 'donkey,' so the identification was almost predetermined."
- Morton Smith,
Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God? (1978) pp. 81-82

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