The Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith must be confirmed to be the same person, or Christianity may be viewed by some as a grand delusion. If the fact that Jesus actually existed becomes doubtful, in the eyes of some people He may fall into the same category as Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. For this reason, the study of the historical Jesus must never be cast aside.
The writers of the Gospels were perhaps aware of the necessity to locate Jesus within a definite historical framework. They included many references to political figures and conditions existing during Jesus’ lifetime: “In the time of King Herod…” (Mat 2:1), “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…” (Luke 2:1) , and “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanius ruler of Abilene, during high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…” (Luke 3:1-2).
There are continual archaeological digs in the Middle East and Europe as people search for more knowledge about ancient civilizations. The date of the construction of the pyramids in Egypt, and Stonehenge in Britain, are both estimated to be circa 2,000 B.C., well before the time of Jesus.
If it is considered to be so important to study these ancient historical sites, should it not be more vital to find out everything possible about Jesus of Nazareth, whom many believe to be God Incarnate? Since the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity willingly left the perfection of heaven to live among His creatures on earth, why would we not want to know every detail about His sojourn among us?
Unfortunately, because of Jesus’ lifestyle and social position, there are few relics or artifacts which can be definitely linked to Him. Many of His contemporaries viewed Him as only an itinerant Jewish preacher. It was only after His death and resurrection that His followers, the first Christians, became a recognizable group
However, if any of relics of Jesus could be found and authenticated, they would be priceless. Consider the passionate devotion and intense study centered on the Shroud of Turin, or the centuries-old search for the legendary Holy Grail. The quest for evidence of the historical Jesus will continue, even if only for potential wealth and fame guaranteed to the successful seeker.
The Didache is a manual for new Christians containing the teaching of the twelve Apostles. It is dated about 50 A.D. or shortly after, and was possibly the result of the First Apostolic Council (50 A.D.) in Jerusalem.
The majority of New Testament scholars date Mark’s gospel shortly before or shortly after A.D. 70, Matthew and Luke roughly 80-90, and John close to the end of the first century. All of these documents are evidence not only that Jesus existed, but that He left a deep and lasting impression on those who knew Him. The martyrdom of early Christians who went willingly to their deaths in the Roman coliseum rather than deny their faith, are testimonies written in blood.
The first independent account of Jesus is that of the historian Flavius Josephus (37-100 A.D.) who wrote in his account “Jewish Antiquities”, Book 18, Chapter 3, paragraphs 1-5, :
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this day.”
The study of Jesus from an historical perspective must and will continue. We can never learn enough about the God-Man who loved humanity enough to enter history and secure our salvation through His suffering and crucifixion. Compared to this quest, all other studies of ancient sites and peoples fade into insignificance.
1. The Holy Bible, NRSV.
2. New Advent