Friday, March 25, 2016

Jesus, Where Are You? The Missing Extrabiblical Evidence

It is interesting how there are numerous gaps in the historical record for time periods that are critical to the story of Christianity. Using scholarship from On The Historicity of Jesus, some examples include:

  • In the Roman History of Cassius Dio, all the years between 6 to 2 BCE are gone. That gap begins exactly 2 years before King Herod's death, in accordance with Mt. 2:16, and ending 2 years after it (there was uncertainty among Christians when exactly Herod died). In volume 58 covering the years 29 to 37 CE a reference to an event (in 58.17.2) that was described in a section that was deleted some time between the years of 15 and 30.
  • The Christian scholar Hippolytus in the early 3rd century wrote a Refutation of All Heresies in ten volumes. At the end of the 1st volume he mentions that he's about to explain the secret doctrines of the mystery religions which would have included passion narratives of savior gods, miraculous births, deaths and resurrections, but the 2nd and 3rd volumes are missing. Volume 4 goes right into astrology.
  • In the beginning of the 1st century, Ovid wrote an elaborate poem, the Fasti, describing all the festivals throughout the year in Rome, and what went on in them and why. The annual Roman festival of Romulus where his death and resurrection were reenacted in public passion plays was held on the 7th of July. Only the first half of the poem survives covering January to June. The texts cuts off precisely before the month in which the passion play survives.
  • In Plutarch's Moralia, a huge multivolume library of treatises on diverse subjects, one of of the volumes is Tabletalk. There, he discusses the equivalence between Yahweh and Dionysus, linking Jewish theology to the mystery religions when suddenly the text cuts off. The surviving table of contents indicates there were several sections remaining on other subjects besides this one.
  • In the Annals of Tacitus, of which we have only 2 surviving manuscript traditions, there is a gap in the text covering the middle of 29 CE to to the middle of 31 CE. The year 30 is regarded by many Christians as the years of Christ's ministry and crucifixion. 

Silence on Jesus, Christians, Christianity and its origin:

  • Philo of Alexandria wrote 5 books about his embassy to Caligula after the year 36 and the events precipitating it, and only 2 survived. One of the 3 missing volumes covered the persecution of the Jews under Tiberius, one was on Pilate, and the other was on Sejanus at Rome. All 3 of these may have had embarrassing silence on Jesus.
  • Emperors Vespasian and Titus published commentaries on their government service which included persecution of the Jewish War and Christians are never mentioned.
  • Seneca the Elder wrote a History of Rome covering the 1st century BCE to the year 40 CE. Seneca the Younger wrote a treatise On Superstition some time between 40 and 62 CE that criticized every known cult at Rome, even those trivial or obscure, including the Jews, but never mentions the Christians. Seneca was also the brother of Gallio whom Christians are brought on trial before in Greece according to Acts 18:12-17.
  • In the 3rd century, Marius Maximus, notorious for extensive quotations of official documents, wrote biographies of the emperors of the second century. The second century saw several imperial engagements with Christianity, yet he never once mentions or digresses on the origins or treatment of Christianity.
  • In the 1st century we have the fragmentary remains of Satyricon of Petronius which mocks several religions and its narrative, even poking fun at crucifixion, and never mentions Christ, Christians or Christianity. None of the early pagan religious novels mention Christians.

What are the chances that so many historical volumes and texts would have gaps covering precisely the periods where the history of Jesus mattered so much? And what are the chances that Christianity, Christians, or the origin or Christianity would be absent from so many written works covering the times and places where the religion and its followers were suppose to have existed? Could these all be coincidences? I think that is very unlikely. If the minimal mythicist view is correct that Jesus never existed, and was thus silent from the historical record, then the early Christians would have been motivated to destroy those records covering those periods where Jesus' life details were supposed to have taken place, or, they would have been motivated to doctor records with interpolations. Once the Roman empire came under Christian control and Christianity eventually dominated Europe, Christians controlled which pieces of written history were preserved. and which were not. They had every reason to do this in a way that favored their particular brand of Christianity, which for a long time was the Catholic Church. And the Catholic Church's version of Christianity needed a historical Jesus.

So think about this. Much of the written knowledge from antiquity was filtered through the Catholic Church that we know was motivated to omit and doctor things to suit its theology and agenda. Given this, how likely do you think it is that these mysterious and convenient gaps and silence are just a coincidence?

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