Regina Dalton on the question of ……

Jesus: real or imagined ?I make no pretense of being either an intellectual, a Biblical scholar or even a particularly studious Christian.  So when I came across Michael Coren’s book HeresyI appreciated that he included an extensive bibliography and informative reference notes.

Support for his chapter on Jesus’ actual existence included Everett Ferguson’s Background of Early Christianity (Erdmans), Julius Scott Jr.’s Jewish Background of the New Testament (Baker), and Chris Mounder’s Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford).

(In this essay I am using edited excerpts, so please access Coren’s book for further information.)
1)  The late-first and early-second century historian Cornelius Tacitus writes : “Christus was put to death by Pontius Pilate . . . But the pernicious superstition . . . broke out again.”  Later in the excerpt, Tacitus uses the word “mischief” in reference to Christ’s teachings.

In both cases I have added the emphasis in order to underline that the writer has absolutely no respect for Jesus.
2)  Coren goes on to write of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, who wrote at the end of the first century and beginning of the second.  He informs us that Claudius expelled from Rome those who were making “disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus” (a recognized variation of the word Christ).
3)  Then Coren introduces us to Pliny the Younger, he who had the job of torturing and executing Christians because of the their faith.  From Pliny “. . . those who persisted I ordered executed.  For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.” (As an aside, I doubt that stubborn adherence to the Roman gods of the day would have warranted death.)

Later in the excerpt Pliny recounts the actions of Christians : they would “sing responsively a hymn to Christ as a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft or adultery, not to falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so . . .”  

Pliny reports that he goes on to torture a couple more female slaves because of their “depraved, excessive superstition . . .”  Now call me simple, but what Pliny defines as “superstition” sounds more like the basis of good citizenship to me — of course I’m not on the payroll of a Caesar.
4)  Now to the Greek writers.  Second century Celsus, no friend of Christians, accuses Jesus of sorcery.  He is aware of and writes of Jesus’ miracles, but adds : “It is by the names of certain demons, and by the use of incantations, that the Christians appear to be possessed of [miraculous] power.”

And then there’s Lucian of Samosata : “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day . . . the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”
5)  Mara Bar-Serapion, a Syrian philosopher writes : “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King ? . . . He lived on in the teaching He had given.”
Coren shares writings from many sources — the writing of people who disliked Jesus, feared his influence, and distrusted his followers.

Influential Roman, Greek and mid-eastern scholars of the first and second centuries harboured no doubts that Jesus was real — they just wished he wasn’t