The December 2017 edition of National Geographic challenges skeptics about the existence of JC while attempting a fact vs fiction review of who he was. Author, Kristin Romey, herself an archaeologist, highlights the work of contemporary archaeology that throws new light on the man Jesus.
The difficulty of finding traces of proof for a person who lived 2000 years ago is acknowledged. The New testament texts, especially the Gospels (despite their divergent reports) remain as preeminent sources while being openly debated.
Tradition and archaeology inform each other in this search. Serious archaeology in the Holy Land is only 150 years old and has made shifts in perspectives in that time. Despite the emergence of some scholarly arguments against the existence of JC, few mainstream scholars today challenge his existence.
John Dominic Crossan, former priest and co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, supports the ‘existence’ arguments. However, stories of his miraculous deeds need considerable re-thinking.
Scholars who study Jesus divide into two opposing camps separated by a very bright line: those who believe the wonder-working Jesus of the Gospels is the real Jesus, and those who think the real Jesus – the man who inspired the myth – hides below the surface of the Gospels and must be revealed by historical research and literary analysis. Both camps claim archaeology as their ally, leading to some fractious debates and strange bedfellows. (Romey)
Archaeologists have succeeded in showing the influence of Rome’s first Christian Emperor, Constantine, in developing the ‘church’ in his building and organisational influence. But proof of links between Bethlehem and the Nativity are scant. Once again Constantine in the 4th Century was responsible for identification and veneration of key sites in the Holy Land. What credence can we give to this?
However, the search for Jesus has produced more evidence in Galilee which had been subjugated by Rome 60 years before the birth of Jesus. John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus in 1991, presented an influential thesis inspired by new archaeological discoveries that Galilee, more urbanised and Jewish than at first understood, had a more significant role in Jesus’ formation than previously thought. He argued that Jesus was a wandering sage, living a counter cultural lifestyle, and challenging the old rules of cleanliness and wealth and status seeking.
Romey’s article goes on to explain how recent (late 20th Century) digs have brought to light evidence for homage to Jesus in the first century homes and meeting places. Similarly, the discovery of a boat, a synagogue and the Magdala Stone from the time of Jesus have only enhanced the speculation about the real Jesus.
But it is in Jerusalem that many lines of evidence attest to the way Jesus died and this is also more consistently reported in the Gospels.
For progressive Christians this search for evidence is important to having a better understanding of Jesus, his life and teaching. The integrity of the arguments are important to following a man of substance and applying his principles personally.