Looking for the Historical Jesus and the Real Jesus

It’s Holy Week, and across Christendom, the highlights of the life and death of Jesus Christ are recognized and revered.

If you’re a true believer, the Gospels in the Bible tell you all you need to know about Jesus. But for others, there is a hunger to know more. Specifically, is there any archeological evidence that Jesus Christ even existed?

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Most biblical scholars scoff at the skeptics who say Jesus never existed.

“I don’t know any mainstream scholar who doubts the historicity of Jesus,” said Eric Meyers, an archaeologist and emeritus professor in Judaic studies at Duke University. “The details have been debated for centuries, but no one who is serious doubts that he’s a historical figure.”

The biggest problem faced by archeologists is trying to find traces of one man from 2,000 years ago. What we have has been handed down to us from Christians in the Holy Land who lived hundreds of years after Christ was born. 

The first serious effort at uncovering the “real” Jesus Christ occurred during the reign of Emporer Constantine. In 326, the Emporer’s mother Helena traveled on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she gathered information about specific religious sites. Some of Christianity’s most famous churches were built on sites based on Helena’s reports. Was Helena and other early Christian pilgrims led astray by legend and hearsay?

No trace of the man Jesus has ever been found. No bones, no artifacts of any kind to tell us what kind of a man he was. No evidence of his miracles, no evidence of his crucifixion and resurrection. 

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Thomas Aquinas is helpful in this regard: “For those with faith, no evidence is necessary; for those without it, no evidence will suffice.”

National Geographic:

The Church of the Nativity is the oldest Christian church still in daily use, but not all scholars are convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. Only two of the four Gospels mention his birth, and they provide diverging accounts: the traditional manger and shepherds in Luke; the wise men, massacre of children, and flight to Egypt in Matthew. Some suspect that the Gospel writers located Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem to tie the Galilean peasant to the Judaean city prophesied in the Old Testament as the birthplace of the Messiah.

Archaeology is largely silent on the matter. After all, what are the odds of unearthing any evidence of a peasant couple’s fleeting visit two millennia ago? Excavations at and around the Church of the Nativity have so far turned up no artifacts dating to the time of Christ, nor any sign that early Christians considered the site sacred. The first clear evidence of veneration comes from the third century, when the theologian Origen of Alexandria visited Palestine and noted, “In Bethlehem there is shown the cave where [Jesus] was born.” 

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“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” wrote astronomer Carl Sagan. On the other hand, two billion people can’t all be delusional. 

No archeologist can “prove” Jesus wasn’t God any more than my old theology teacher, Brother Lentz, could prove that he was. It’s the miracle of faith that animates those two billion people — a faith that guides their lives and provides the “spark of divine wit,” as Shakespeare put it.  

But it’s still a fascinating stretch of intellect to seek out the historical Jesus no matter where he is.

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