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Jesus: the extra-Biblical evidence

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 Contents - Jun 2015AD2000 June 2015
Canonisation: Pope Francis canonises four heroic nuns - AD2000 Report
Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Fisher respond to Ballarat allegations - AD2000 Report
Life issues: Reflections on the death penalty - Anne Lastman
Sacred Heart: Burning appeal of the Heart of Jesus - Archbishop Julian Porteous
Jesus: the extra-Biblical evidence - Andrew Sholl
Family: Pope Francis upholds Church teaching on the family - Fr Ken CLark OLSC
Letters: Using e-Readers at Mass - Gerry van Hees
Letters: "Our homeland in heaven": a rejoinder - Dr Frank Mobbs
Letters: Sexual abuse of children - Arnold Jago
Books: THE ENVIRONMENT, by Pope Benedict XVI - Paul Simmons
Books: THE CHURCH AND CREATION, by Luis Colomer - Paul Simmons (reviewer)
Books: THE UNICORN IN THE SANCTUARY: New Age and the Catholic Church - Br Barry Coldrey
Reflection: Faith: dialogue of mind and heart - Audrey English

Some critics tell us, even among some eminent Israeli history professors, that the Israelites never went to, or left Egypt in an Exodus.

They claim that the Israelites were merely a small Canaanite tribal group which always lives in the land of Canaan, and rose to prominent through two means: fighting their neighbours successfully, and most importantly, having developed the idea of a single, but still tribal Deity, Yahweh: the Lord God of Israel.

Where does their cynicism come from?

The simple fact that, apparently, to date no inscription on a monument in Egypt has been found that unambiguously states that Moses and his people left Egypt.

Why would such an inscription exist? The Pharaohs were notorious for the simple device of having the names of their predecessors chiselled out of existence!

Any living Pharaoh would hardly allow an inscription on monuments which shows the humiliation of Pharaoh and his army in the Sea of Reeds.

The bible tells us in the Book of Exodus, chapter 14, verses 5 to 31, how the Egyptian army was wiped out, after it gave chase to the Israelites who were fleeing slavery in Egypt, ostensibly initially with Pharaoh's permission.

This followed ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptians due to Pharmacy's initial refusal to allow them to leave.

Likewise, one would hardly expect the recording in a favourable light by Romans or Jews of the life, death and Resurrection of an obscure Jew called Jesus of Nazareth. Nazareth is not even mentioned in the Old Testament!

To them, Jesus lived in remote Galilee, and was condemned to the shameful death on the cross by the Romans on a charge of sedition against the Roman state (as he claimed to be king, in apparent competition with the Roman Emperor).

Yet there were several non-Christian writers in the First and Second Centuries AD who spoke about Jesus and his followers, usually in negative terms.

Thus we have the Jewish Talmud (a commentary on the Tanah, or Old Testament, and many others matters besides).

It claims that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was raped by a Roman soldier called Panthera ("panther" in English), and that Jesus was the product of her defilement.

Then there are the Roman historians Tacitus (c.55-c.120 AD), Pliny the Younger (62-114 AD), as well as Philo of Alexandria in Egypt, the Jewish statesman and philosopher (c.20 BC-c.50 AD).

However, in my opinion, the most accurate commentator on the existence of Jesus was Flavius Josephus (born Yoseph bar Mattatyah in 37 AD).

Josephus led the Jewish resistance to the Romans in Galilee in the great uprising of 66-70 AD, eventually being captured by the Romans after a seven week sage of Jotapata, a Jewish city in Galilee, in which tens of thousands of people died.

After his capture, Josephus became a slave, but ingratiated himself to the conqueror Vespasian .

Josephus claimed the Jewish Messianic prophecies that initiated the Roman-Jewish War made reference to Vespasian becoming Emperor of Rome. In response Vespasian decided to keep Josephus as a slave and interpreter. After Vespasian became Roman Emperor in 69, he granted Josephus his freedom, at which time Josephus assumed the emperor's family name of Flavius.

Josephus served as an advisor to Vespasian's son Titus. who led the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, which resulted in the city's total destruction and the looting and destruction of Herod's Temple (Second Temple).

Josephus wrote two important works: the Jewish Wars and The Antiquities of the Jews, a history of the Jewish people in the period prior to the war.

Bishop Eusebius Pamphilus of Caesarea in the Holy Land during the 4th Century AD, quoted Josephus verbatim in his famous Ecclesiastical History from Christ to Constantine, Book I, Chapter XI, in the following way:

"About the same time, there was a certain Jesus, a wise man if indeed it is proper to call him a man. For he was a performer of extraordinary deeds: a teacher of men that received his doctrine with delight: and he attached to himself many of the Jews, many also of the Greeks. This was Christ.

"Pilate, having inflicted the punishment of the cross upon him on the accusation of our principal men, those who had been attached to him before did not, however, afterwards cease to love him: for he appeared to them alive again on the third day, according to the holy prophets, who had declared these and innumerable other wonderful things respecting him.

"The race of the Christians, who derive their name from him, likewise still continues."

Of course, for us it's quite amusing that Josephus calls the Christians a "race"! Still, as a Jew (although he "sold out" to the Romans), he may have found it difficult to accept that Jews and Gentiles could co-exist in harmony in one faith, the Christian faith, which obviously appeared to him as an offshoot of Judaism.

Yet Josephus, the author of The Jewish Wars and The Antiquities of the Jews where the above quote originally came from, was writing after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.

As a "naturalised" Roman Jew, he must have felt it necessary to account for the growing presence of Christians in the Roman Empire, a presence which had been earlier provided the pretext for the Emperor Nero blaming the Christians for the great fire of Rome in 64 AD.

Josephus' account is quite remarkable, given the fact that Christians at that time were only a tiny minority in the vast population of the Roman Empire, and their founder was regarded by Rome as a criminal, whereas for us, he is the Messiah of Israel and Son of God, who saved all of us from our sins, both Jews and Gentiles.

(Andrew Sholl is co-founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics, which aims to end the alienation of Catholics of Jewish origin and background from their historical heritage, and invites Catholics to learn about the Jewish origins of Christianity. It conducts regular monthly meetings in cities where its numbers make this possible.)

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 5 (June 2015), p. 5

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