History, Archaeology, and Jesus -- By: Paul Maier

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 16:1 (Winter 2003)
Article: History, Archaeology, and Jesus
Author: Paul Maier

History, Archaeology, and Jesus

Paul Maier

The emporer Tiberius. His image was on the coin Jesus referred to in Matthew 22:18–21, when he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, to God what is God’s.” Istanbul Museum.

No figure in all of history has provoked such extreme reactions. While believers acclaim Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God and Savior of the World, others have disputed or misinterpreted His teachings, rejected them entirely, or even denied that the man ever existed. It hardly seems possible, in view of the overwhelming evidence, that His historicity should be questioned or denied, and yet I continue to get messages on the internet from skeptics, apparently blind to the facts and motivated by some forlorn hope that there never was a Jesus, who parrot the worthless arguments of past atheists. Sad.

Today, the vast majority of non-Christians share, in various ways, the following opinion: Jesus certainly existed, but He was not who believers claim He was, since His words and deeds were augmented or invented by Gospel writers many years after the events they reported, a time frame in which myth had overlaid the facts.

Many wonderous events in Jesus’ ministry occurred on or near the Sea of Galilee, a place one can still visit 2000 years later.

The Jordan River as it emerges from the Sea of Galilee. The hills in the background are the Golan Heights.

Quite apart from a believer’s vested interest in the reliability of the New Testament record, anyone interested in the past should wish to know if the accounts of Jesus that have come down to us in the Gospels are trustworthy or have been encrusted with fantasy. Comparing Biblical and non-Biblical evidence—the sacred and the secular—is one important way to gauge the reliability of evidence on Jesus. In fact, such a comparison yields three added benefits by providing: 1) additional color, depth, and dimension to the New Testament accounts; 2) solutions to some of the difficulties in those accounts; and 3) a means of filling in some of the gaps in the Gospel records.

The secular sources most helpful for this purpose are geography, archaeology, and extra-Biblical historical evidence. In using these, we will see that the New Testament accounts of Jesus, far from being warped by myth, report just as historical a personality as the Roman emperor Augustus in whose reign He was born. This stat...

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