Accurate sources for the life of Jesus

Isatis

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Some of the more important historical evidences of Jesus include the following:

The first-century Roman Tacitus, who is considered one of the more accurate historians of the ancient world, mentioned superstitious “Christians” (from Christus, which is Latin for Christ), who suffered under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. Suetonius, chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian, wrote that there was a man named Chrestus (or Christ) who lived during the first century (Annals 15.44).

Flavius Josephus is the most famous Jewish historian. In his Antiquities he refers to James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” There is a controversial verse (18:3) that says, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats....He was [the] Christ...he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.” One version reads, “At this time there was a wise man named Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”

Julius Africanus quotes the historian Thallus in a discussion of the darkness which followed the crucifixion of Christ (Extant Writings, 18).

Pliny the Younger, in Letters 10:96, recorded early Christian worship practices including the fact that Christians worshiped Jesus as God and were very ethical, and he includes a reference to the love feast and Lord’s Supper.

The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) confirms Jesus' crucifixion on the eve of Passover and the accusations against Christ of practicing sorcery and encouraging Jewish apostasy.

Lucian of Samosata was a second-century Greek writer who admits that Jesus was worshiped by Christians, introduced new teachings, and was crucified for them. He said that Jesus' teachings included the brotherhood of believers, the importance of conversion, and the importance of denying other gods. Christians lived according to Jesus’ laws, believed themselves to be immortal, and were characterized by contempt for death, voluntary self-devotion, and renunciation of material goods.

Mara Bar-Serapion confirms that Jesus was thought to be a wise and virtuous man, was considered by many to be the king of Israel, was put to death by the Jews, and lived on in the teachings of His followers.

Then we have all the Gnostic writings (The Gospel of Truth, The Apocryphon of John, The Gospel of Thomas, The Treatise on Resurrection, etc.) that all mention Jesus.

source: Did Jesus really exist? Is there any historical evidence of Jesus Christ?
 
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AlexBP

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I would take a different approach. The primary historical material that we have about Jesus is the four gospels. The main question then becomes: are the gospels reliable records of events, or merely make-believe. The internal evidence strongly points to them being reliable; the external evidence that Isatis mentions further builds up the case for their reliability. Regarding the internal evidence, I'd recommend these two books.

Lord or Legend: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma by Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy.

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg.
 
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OneOfTheMany

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Thank you all for your replies. Strength in the accuracy of the history does bolster my faith. I found one book in particular that seems to speak directly to some of my questions. I will check back after some reading.

Thanks and God be with you.
 
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TScott

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IMO the strongest evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus are the Parables found in the Gospels.

The problem many people have is that they equate the way information was accumulated and relayed with modern day methods. It seems to many that if there was truly a historical Jesus that we would find that there was much more written about him, when that really isn't the case at all.

At the time of Jesus' ministry, and in the area in which he preached the written word was a rarity. Galillee was a relatively poor area. Most people couldn't afford to write things down and few knew how to read or write anyway. The main mode of communication among these people was by word of mouth. This is one of the reasons that Jesus or any preacher for that matter would preach in Parables; short stories designed to convey morality and man's relationship with God. These stories were easily passed on from one person to the next among the followers of Jesus, and only later, in some cases a full generation later, the stories would be written in Gospel. That is the reason these stories, these Parables, should be considered evidence because they had to be the stories that the faithful had already been made familiar with through the oral tradition.
 
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FanofYECWATCH

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Most people couldn't afford to write things down and few knew how to read or write anyway..

Not true. Among the Jews of that time, literacy was common because it was important to reading the Torah and even reading the phylacteries that God commanded them to wear on their arms and clothing.

Yes, the average person didn't own any scrolls. But they probably learned their letters and the sounds by marking in sand.
 
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TScott

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Not true. Among the Jews of that time, literacy was common because it was important to reading the Torah and even reading the phylacteries that God commanded them to wear on their arms and clothing.

Yes, the average person didn't own any scrolls. But they probably learned their letters and the sounds by marking in sand.

Sorry, but that isn't correct, among the multitudes, especially in Galilee most were illiterate. It is common knowledge that the spoken word, oral tradition as it were, was the mainstream means for spreading knowledge. Sure the leaders of the various groups may have scrolls of Torah, usually only certain verses and books, and these were extremely valuable and rare. They were considered to be treasure. Typically, only in the Temples of the major population centers would you find complete sets.
 
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hedrick

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It depends upon how sophisticated they are. If they're knowledgable, the usual apologetics won't work. One interesting possibility is Bart Ehrman's book "Did Jesus Exist?" It's a pretty good review of the evidence from a critical point of view. It *is* from a critical point of view, so in addition to that it will have lots of material that conservatives won't agree with. But if you're dealing with someone used to critical methods, it is likely to be convincing where more conservative sources won't be.

Ehrman does have one view that I think is dubious. He thinks Jesus' concept of the Kingdom was entirely something that was coming in the near future. That would mean Jesus is wrong. That view was common in the middle of the 20th Cent, but is less common now. Scholars have a better understanding of how apocalyptic language works now. It's now pretty clear that Jesus saw the Kingdom both as a present and a future reality. I think it's also pretty clear that many of his references were to events that happened in 70 AD.
 
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keith99

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If I encountered a non-Christian who was interested in Christianity, but from a historical perspective thought the story of Jesus to be only a story, not fact, which sources could I bring up to show that person that Jesus did actually exist?

Thanks.

Might I bring up a problem you may face?

Honestly few argue and fewer still hang their lack of belief on Jesus not existing.

The real issue is much more difficult. Is the Biblical report accurate, or is it an embelishment regarding some preacher?

Let me use a real historical figure to illustrate.

Davey Crockett existed. There is no question regarding that. He served at least 2 terms in Congress. Just the records of his votes there is far more written evidence for his existance than all there is for Jesus.

BUT this proof does nothing to establish that the stories regarding his accuracy with a long rifle. It does little to establish he died at the Alamo. But his farewell speach does establish he was going to Texas. I'm pretty sure other records establish he was at the Alamo, but to establish what he did there is more fuzzy (none on his side survived).

If I recall correctly the Legend is that Crockett received a very nice rifle as a gift (on the floor of congress or the state legislature?) Let's say that is true (as the Legend). I would expect a record of that. Lack of such a record would push a lot of the story as to being questionable. Existance of such a record tends to confirm he was a pretty good shot.

BUT I know of nothing in the record that would lead me to believe many of the boasts made, especially the one regarding riding lightening.

If someone claimed Crockett existed and that meant all of the legend was true I'd consider him a fool. If they claimed the legend showed that he was an impressive individual I'd agree.

One thing a bit similar with Jesus is the people making the claim his existance and story are well documented. That is complete rubbish.

BUT I being a reasonable agnostic am willing to step back and ask 'Would I expect it to be?'. Would I expect Rome to record the existance of an wandering Rabbi who only came to the notice of a local governer out in the sticks because of complaints from those in charge of the Jewish Temple? No, I would not. If he rose from the dead and appeared to his followers what would Rome know of that? And someone heard and considered it extraordinary whould they believe it just becaseu his followers claimed it was true?

Now if Jesus was more like what many expected, a war leader of Isreal and he lead a revolt, even a failed one like Masada, then I would expect records in Rome.


And bringing the 2 back together. If it was claimed Jesus went to Roem and spoke on hte floor of the Senate I woudl expect that some record was made and might survive.

BUT there are several thigns is Scripture that are troubling from an accurate history perspective. The Virgin Birth and Jesus rising from teh dead are not among them. But large numbers of dead rising as is reported in one of the Gospels is. That I would expect to be news, I woudl expect a record. I am not aware of any such record.
 
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Ana the Ist

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If I encountered a non-Christian who was interested in Christianity, but from a historical perspective thought the story of Jesus to be only a story, not fact, which sources could I bring up to show that person that Jesus did actually exist?

Thanks.

I want to first state that I believe Jesus is a mythological figure, not a historical person. It is true that this is a minority belief amongst scholars, but has gained far more traction in recent years. I don't think its an unreasonable belief, its simply a difficult one because of its implications to believers. I'll admit that proving Jesus didn't actually exist is at least as difficult as proving he did. I'm hoping that I can help explain why non-biblical references to Jesus aren't very credible in the eyes of many nonbelievers.

First off, ask yourself what you're looking for....do you want an old written mention of a person named Christ sometime after he died? The problem with this is that such mentions are likely nothing more than the retelling of what Christians believed true. That is, they are secondhand accounts given from believers, written by historians. Not what we would call "evidence". What we would want is an account from someone who lived in Jesus's time, who was either recording events in Jesus's geographical location, or an account from an enemy of Jesus....one who we wouldn't imagine simply "fabricating" an enemy out of thin air. That sounds like a lot, but there were candidates, but I'll mention them in a moment. Let's first look at what we do have....

In the later part of the second century many people wrote about Jesus, but the common scholarly consent is these are all secondhand retellings of Christian beliefs...not actual accounts of Jesus Christ. There are really only four possible non biblical accounts of Jesus, tacitus, pliny the younger, suetonius, and Josephus.

Suetonius in Lives of the Caesers says this " Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."
The trouble with this is it is all assumption. Chrestus isn't a proper Latin translation of the Greek "Christos" though it is a proper Latin name. Also, the author is writing about a person who was instigating Jews in Rome during 49ad...well after Jesus's death.

Tacitus in his Annals says this, " Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular." This passage has several problems but I'll only mention that it appears to be nothing more than a retelling of Christian beliefs...not evidence that Jesus existed.

Pliny the Younger in his letter to Trajan mentions his dealings with Christians of his time, and how some recant their beliefs under torture, but again gives no real evidence of a Jesus Christ. I can link you or copy the passage if you like.
 
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Ana the Ist

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Josephus is another matter entirely, and in my opinion, a complete hoax by Christians. Christians throughout history have been aware of the scant evidence for Christ and have created documents trying to prove his existence. This particular passage is widely regarded to have at the least been altered by Christians...if not entirely added by them. It reads...
" Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular."
One of the glaring problems is the entirely "positive" light this passage puts Jesus in. Josephus was a Jew who didn't believe in Christianity...yet if he wrote that passage it would be hard to imagine why. If he thought Jesus was the messiah, certainly he would've become Christian. Furthermore, if you look at the preceding and following passages, this passage does not fit. It is unrelated to the other passages and breaks the continuity of the entire chapter. Josephus also created a "table of contents" where he outlines everything he writes...yet makes no mention of this Jesus figure. Hardly credible at all.
 
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Ana the Ist

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Now, you may think that the nonbeliever is asking too much...that there simply won't be anyone of Jesus's time who was likely to write about him....you would be wrong. Philo of Alexandria was by far the best candidate. He lived from 20BCE to 50CE was a prolific writer of the events in Jewish life in Jesus's time. Even more so, he wrote extensively about Jewish grievences with Pontius Pilate throughout the time Jesus supposedly lived. Yet somehow, he never once mentions a Jesus Christ.

There are other reasons why the historical Jesus is more unlikely than the mythological Jesus, but since you asked about writings...I'll spare you those. I hope this was some help.
 
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FrenchyBearpaw

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If I encountered a non-Christian who was interested in Christianity, but from a historical perspective thought the story of Jesus to be only a story, not fact, which sources could I bring up to show that person that Jesus did actually exist?

Thanks.

Unfortunately for the Christian, there aren't many. Jesus never wrote anything down that we know of. There are no other contemporary extrabiblical documents. The earliest copy of Mark dates to about 220 BCE, and Matthew seems to be a direct copy of Mark. The Gospels were written in a sophisticated Greek style, and definitely not by anyone who ever met Jesus or Jewish fishermen. There are more discrepancies in the early copies than there are words in the Gospels. In fact, Jesus as a historical character doesn't even seem to pop up until late first century, early second. Richard Carrier puts the historical existence of Jesus to about one in three.
 
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FrenchyBearpaw

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Some of the more important historical evidences of Jesus include the following:

The first-century Roman Tacitus, who is considered one of the more accurate historians of the ancient world, mentioned superstitious “Christians” (from Christus, which is Latin for Christ), who suffered under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. Suetonius, chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian, wrote that there was a man named Chrestus (or Christ) who lived during the first century (Annals 15.44).

Flavius Josephus is the most famous Jewish historian. In his Antiquities he refers to James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” There is a controversial verse (18:3) that says, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats....He was [the] Christ...he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.” One version reads, “At this time there was a wise man named Jesus. His conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who became his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”

Julius Africanus quotes the historian Thallus in a discussion of the darkness which followed the crucifixion of Christ (Extant Writings, 18).

Pliny the Younger, in Letters 10:96, recorded early Christian worship practices including the fact that Christians worshiped Jesus as God and were very ethical, and he includes a reference to the love feast and Lord’s Supper.

The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) confirms Jesus' crucifixion on the eve of Passover and the accusations against Christ of practicing sorcery and encouraging Jewish apostasy.

Lucian of Samosata was a second-century Greek writer who admits that Jesus was worshiped by Christians, introduced new teachings, and was crucified for them. He said that Jesus' teachings included the brotherhood of believers, the importance of conversion, and the importance of denying other gods. Christians lived according to Jesus’ laws, believed themselves to be immortal, and were characterized by contempt for death, voluntary self-devotion, and renunciation of material goods.

Mara Bar-Serapion confirms that Jesus was thought to be a wise and virtuous man, was considered by many to be the king of Israel, was put to death by the Jews, and lived on in the teachings of His followers.

Then we have all the Gnostic writings (The Gospel of Truth, The Apocryphon of John, The Gospel of Thomas, The Treatise on Resurrection, etc.) that all mention Jesus.

source: Did Jesus really exist? Is there any historical evidence of Jesus Christ?
Everyone one of the sources you listed were hearsay. None of these sources were contemporaries of Jesus.
 
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AlexBP

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Now, you may think that the nonbeliever is asking too much...that there simply won't be anyone of Jesus's time who was likely to write about him....you would be wrong.
Actually they would be right, while you would be the one who's wrong.

First of all, you claim that Philo of Alexandria "lived from 20 BCE to 50 CE". This is untrue. No one knows the dates at which he lived, though he was probably alive in the years of Jesus Christ's ministry, which is usually dated 30-33 A.D.

Second and much more significant you say that Philo "was a prolific writer of the events in Jewish life in Jesus's time". This is also untrue. Philo was a philosopher and theologian. He was a prolific writer of those topics and of commentaries on Jewish scripture, but you have no justification whatsoever for saying that he was a prolific writer of the events in Jewish life in Jesus's time. Your claim that Philo "wrote extensively about Jewish grievances with Pontius Pilate throughout the time Jesus supposedly lived" is even more false. In Philo's entire body of work, Pontius Pilate is mentioned exactly one time.

Did you honestly think you'd get away with telling lies like that?
 
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FrenchyBearpaw

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Actually they would be right, while you would be the one who's wrong.

First of all, you claim that Philo of Alexandria "lived from 20 BCE to 50 CE". This is untrue. No one knows the dates at which he lived, though he was probably alive in the years of Jesus Christ's ministry, which is usually dated 30-33 A.D.

Second and much more significant you say that Philo "was a prolific writer of the events in Jewish life in Jesus's time". This is also untrue. Philo was a philosopher and theologian. He was a prolific writer of those topics and of commentaries on Jewish scripture, but you have no justification whatsoever for saying that he was a prolific writer of the events in Jewish life in Jesus's time. Your claim that Philo "wrote extensively about Jewish grievances with Pontius Pilate throughout the time Jesus supposedly lived" is even more false. In Philo's entire body of work, Pontius Pilate is mentioned exactly one time.

Did you honestly think you'd get away with telling lies like that?
Wiki has Philo listed from 20 BCE to 50 CE, not that Wiki is law, but IIRC, in college course - years ago - I seem to recall that Philo was born before Jesus, at least.

You might want to allow for the fact she might be wrong, as some of the facts regarding Philo are somewhat fuzzy, rather than just accuse her of lying. This speaks more about your character, than hers.
 
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Ana the Ist

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Actually they would be right, while you would be the one who's wrong.

First of all, you claim that Philo of Alexandria "lived from 20 BCE to 50 CE". This is untrue. No one knows the dates at which he lived, though he was probably alive in the years of Jesus Christ's ministry, which is usually dated 30-33 A.D.

Second and much more significant you say that Philo "was a prolific writer of the events in Jewish life in Jesus's time". This is also untrue. Philo was a philosopher and theologian. He was a prolific writer of those topics and of commentaries on Jewish scripture, but you have no justification whatsoever for saying that he was a prolific writer of the events in Jewish life in Jesus's time. Your claim that Philo "wrote extensively about Jewish grievances with Pontius Pilate throughout the time Jesus supposedly lived" is even more false. In Philo's entire body of work, Pontius Pilate is mentioned exactly one time.

Did you honestly think you'd get away with telling lies like that?

So....you corrected the dates I had for Philo to prove he did indeed live during Jesus's time? The dates hardly matter, the point was that he lived in Jesus's time. Philo was intimately tied to Jewish/Roman politics, including Jewish grievances under Pilate. He had considerable knowledge of religious and political movements of the time, and I've personally read translations of "On the Embassy to Gaius" where Pilate is mentioned. You say he was mentioned "once" but that "one" mention goes on at length relating Pilate's cruelty to the Jews. I'd be more than happy to post the passages if you or anyone else thinks I've made this up...but its not some secret hidden knowledge, you can look it up yourself.

The fact is Philo made it his business to write about the religious and political goings-on of Jews in 1-30AD Rome....and he never mentions Jesus. Not even in passing. The idea that no one from Jesus's time wrote about such things is frankly, bunko.

Honestly, I thought I was being nice by not going into the popularity of allegorical writing at that time, or the fact that only 50-100 years after Jesus's purported existence christians were arguing about whether Jesus was a real physical flesh-and-blood person...or not.
 
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AlexBP

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So....you corrected the dates I had for Philo to prove he did indeed live during Jesus's time? The dates hardly matter, the point was that he lived in Jesus's time.
I entirely agree and I said so: Philo was alive in Christ's time.

Philo was intimately tied to Jewish/Roman politics, including Jewish grievances under Pilate. He had considerable knowledge of religious and political movements of the time, and I've personally read translations of "On the Embassy to Gaius" where Pilate is mentioned. You say he was mentioned "once" but that "one" mention goes on at length relating Pilate's cruelty to the Jews. I'd be more than happy to post the passages if you or anyone else thinks I've made this up...but its not some secret hidden knowledge, you can look it up yourself.
With pleasure. Here's a link to all of the surviving writings of Philo of Alexandria. That will be sufficient to establish what I said: that the vast majority of his writings were commentary on Jewish scriptures. The one letter you mentioned, On the Embassy to Gaius, (full text here) was the one and only thing he every wrote about contemporary events, and it covers events from a wide span of time, with no particular focus on the dates of Jesus's ministry. In fact there's nothing in the letter that can be verified to have occurred in 30-33 A.D., the probable dates of Christ's ministry. Thus your statement that Philo "was a prolific writer of the events in Jewish life in Jesus's time" is untrue.

As for the mention of Pontius Pilate, since you've read the letter there's no need to inform you of the facts. Nonetheless, for the benefit of others, I'll explain that when you say Philo "wrote extensively about Jewish grievences with Pontius Pilate", you mean that he wrote one paragraph about Jewish grievances under Pontius Pilate. He mentioned exactly one event: when Pilate insisted that two large shields be installed in the Palace of Herod. It seems to me a little bit difficult to justify the claim that Philo "wrote extensively" about what happened under Pilate, when Philo actually wrote only one paragraph about one event. Philo certainly did not, and did not try, to describe everything that happened under Pilate. On the Embassy to Gaius was mostly focused on events involving Jews in the diaspora, not in Judea. But since you've read it, you know that already.

Honestly, I thought I was being nice by not going into the popularity of allegorical writing at that time, or the fact that only 50-100 years after Jesus's purported existence christians were arguing about whether Jesus was a real physical flesh-and-blood person...or not.
The "fact" that you mentioned is a fiction. During the 50-100 years after Jesus lived, nobody ever wrote anything disputing the historical facts about Christ's life , nor for many generations thereafter. There were a few gnostic texts appearing possibly in the late second century A.D. arguing that Christ's nature was entirely divine and not human; however even the gnostics accepted the historical facts that Jesus was born Bethlehem, lived in Judea, and died at Jerusalem; they accepted the factual information given in the Gospels. Therefore the gnostic texts cannot be what you're referring to. I'll be interested to see you tell us exactly what texts you are referring to.

Then again, it wasn't long ago, if I recall correctly, that we had a debate about whether people in the time of Christopher Columbus believed the earth was flat. You urged me then to ignore historical fact and believe works of fiction. Perhaps that's the principle that you're following here as well.
 
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