Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Historical Jesus And The Absence Of Contemporary Writing About Him

This is to a certain extent a re-hashing of things I've already written in this blog: in this post, for example, which is just a summary of the Cambridge Ancient History, 1st ed, vol X: The Augustan Empire, 44BC -- AD70 4th, corrected printing, 19666, pp 866-876. Perhaps I've done a poor job of explaining this. (Perhaps I've done a magnificent job, and no-one has paid any attention. Yeah. That sounds more like it.) Oh well, once more into the breech:

THERE IS NOTHING STRANGE ABOUT OUR HAVING NO CONTEMPORARY WRITING ABOUT JESUS, BECAUSE WE HAVE ALMOST NO WRITING AT ALL FROM THAT TIME AND PLACE. SORRY ABOUT SHOUTING LIKE THIS, BUT IT'S REALLY CRUCIAL FOR ME TO GET THIS POINT ACROSS.. Contemporary observers may have written a great deal about Jesus, if he existed. It seems to me that if he existed, whatever else he may have been, he probably was pretty interesting.

But that's not the point, because however much was written about him by eyewitnesses, that's exactly how much has gone missing in the meantime. If 5 eyewitness accounts were written about Jesus, then that's how many eyewitness accounts of him have gone missing: 5. If 4,386 eyewitness accounts were written about him, then exactly 4,386 such accounts are now unknown to us.

And there's nothing suspicious about all of those accounts having gone missing, because almost everything written in Galilee and Judea during Jesus' lifetime has gone missing. Almost everything written by anyone about anyone or anything. The only exception I know is the Pilate Stone. Here's the entire text carved into that stone which has not eroded away over 19 centuries:


And there's nothing at all suspicious about so little written material having survived from that time and place, when you look at how little writing has survived from the entire Roman Empire (see linked blog post above).

Let's take the example of Livy, hands-down the most highly-regarded historian among the ancient Romans. In scarcely any other time and place on Earth has an a historian been so universally well-respected as Livy was by his contemporaries. He wrote a long history of Rome, 4 times longer than the Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments. It covered Rome from the legends of its beginnings up until 9 BC. About 1/4 of that work is now known to us. I and a few other wild-eyed crackpots dream of finding the other 3/4. You know how much of it has been dug up in the past 200 years? This much:

[------ .e(m) [----- ing]ens [ei era]nt ha[u]t pro[cul G]abiis [u]rbe. cu[m] [Ga]uios nouos exer[cit]us indictus [e]sset ibique centuriati milites essent, cum duob(us)milib(us) pe[ {.} ]ditum profect[u]s in agru(m) suom cons[ul?] and g[-------] ar[------] se[d] reaps[a nega]tam eo [[e]]dicto f[acturum] quoa[d inuissu suo in pr[ovi(n)-] cia maneat, et [si] pergat dicto non parar[e], \[s]e/ [i]n praese(n)tem habiturum imper[i]um. Fabius, [acc]eptus mandatis-----]

You're welcome. (The parts in parentheses are guesses where the text -- on parchment in this case -- is hard to read or gone altogether.)

How many of the authors of the Roman Empire wrote things which we now don't have? The answer to that is easy: all of them. Every single one. Julius Caesar, Vergil, Ovid, Tacitus, Horace, Plautus -- all of them. In many cases, we have lost everything except their names, mentioned by other authors, but even that much is sometimes very important to our understanding of the history of the Roman Empire, because that's how little we have to work with. (See linked blog post above again.)

That's the state of the remains of the writings of the authors the Romans cared about most. Authors who lived in or close to the city of Rome. They didn't care much about Galilee and Judea, which makes it less suspicious that anything written there during Jesus' lifetime has survived (except the Pilate Stone).

Another thing which makes it much less suspicious still is that the Romans crushed a rebellion in Jerusalem in AD 70 and destroyed the Temple, the center of life for many people in the city, and the center of writing. There probably was quite a bit of interesting written material in Jerusalem in AD 69 which was already gone forever by AD 71.

People talk about the written records of the trial of Jesus. I don't know how many official written records of trials the ancient Romans kept. I do know how many such records we have today -- none. Not just none of Jesus' trial, not just none of any trials in Jerusalem -- none of any ancient Roman trials, period. And that's why it's not suspicious that we don't have any official written records of Jesus' trial. Okay? So can we please finally just move on about that one? (Yeah, I'm acting like people have read this post all the way to the end. I'm a cra-zeee dreamer!) (I must mention again that I used to be one of those people who prattled on about "detailed official Roman records," before I got a clue. I'm sincerely sorry about that. Even back then, some people assumed that I knew what I was talking about.)


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