Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, spent his childhood in Nazareth, and then became a traveling prophet and healer, according to the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life. After 2,000 years, it is hardly shocking that physical evidence of Christ’s life is hard to locate, and yet, there is evidence of the life and ministry of Jesus.
The Bible relates that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead, thus his bones would not be found. However, it is being reported that a box that contained the bones of Jesus Christ’s brother James could have been discovered. A scholarly paper by John D. Morris, Ph.D. reprinted on IRC, explains.
“The new artifact is an ossuary, a medium-sized box in which human bones were placed for permanent burial after the flesh had all decayed away. This practice was employed for only a brief period of time from about B.C. 20 to A.D. 70…. Most remarkably, an inscription has been etched into the side which reads, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” in the Aramaic script of the time.”
Jesus Christ’s brother James was stoned to death, according to Flavius Josephus, born in 37 or 38 BCE, who authored Antiquities of the Jews in 93 or 94 CE. Josephus correlated a scholarly history of the Jews for the Romans, in order to help the Romans understand Jewish culture.
Flavius Josephus explains in Antiquities of the Jews how Jesus Christ’s brother James came to be executed. This passage is quoted on Biblical Archaeology.
“Being, therefore, this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “Sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.”
That Flavius Josephus made reference to “Jesus who is called Messiah” is strong evidence, since Josephus was a devout Jew and not a follower of Christ or thought to have been invested in the Christian movement. This incident was only mentioned because Ananus lost his position as high priest as a result of James’ death.
Jesus Christ of Nazareth was mentioned only one other time in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. It was an inexplicably glowing account.
“Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks.”
Jesus Christ was also mentioned by his Roman and Greek detractors. Lucian, Celsus, Pliny the Younger, and Tacitus all wrote about “Christians” and their leader Christ. Tacitus even mentions that Christ was crucified by Pontius Pilate. That Christ was a title of honor, given to Jesus, escaped the understanding of the Romans, who referred to Jesus as Christ as if it were his given name.
Biblical Archaeology has the quote from Tacitus dating to 116 or 117 CE. In an explanation that Nero, when suspected of burning Rome in 64 CE, decided to blame the Christians, Tacitus acknowledges the name of their leader as Christ.
“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.”
Jesus Christ of Nazareth left virtually no physical effects behind. The few items associated with Jesus, such as the holy grail and cross of Christ, have been variously collected, divided and forged. Their perceived spiritual value makes authentication of these items difficult. The shroud of Turin remains an inexplicable image on cloth, that could be authentic and thus reflect the face of Christ.
Jesus Christ’s followers, however, left behind substantial evidence of their devotion to Jesus. The Washington Post reports that evidence of the early Christian sects is found each year.
“At a time when the Christian presence across the Middle East is diminishing and believers often face persecution, archaeologists in Israel say that more than a third of the roughly 40,000 artifacts found in the country each year are linked in some way to Christianity.”
Jesus Christ of Nazareth lived as one of more than a million Jews in the area. Jesus was not famous until his death, as Gideon Avni, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, told the Washington Post.
“He was one of more than a million people living here then, an ordinary Jew who had original ideas and attracted some followers. His fame only really started after his death.”
Despite Jesus Christ’s spartan and nomadic lifestyle, archaeology has amassed enough to trace Christ’s life. According to Gideon Avina’s statements to the Washington Post, archaeologists can “accurately reconstruct Jesus’ life” from the Church of the Nativity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
While Jesus Christ of Nazareth’s life may have only left a few material traces, the fervor of Christ’s followers and their fearless behavior in the face of martyrdom is well documented in history. There are ancient literary references and even some physical evidence of Jesus’ life, but there is much more evidence of Christ’s followers, starting in the first century and continuing to this day.
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That Jesus Christ of Nazareth inspired such powerful belief for over 2,000 years may still be the strongest evidence of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry.
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