By: Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
This is an article I wrote 4 years ago after reading an article of the same title in The Times Tuesday January 3 2006. It has found its slot four years later.
Jesus is the most controversial figure in history. Because there is no evidence or proof of his existence, external to what his followers wrote. Who is Jesus, still haunts the imagination of many people including myself.
Jesus is also the most influential figure on earth. 2.1 billion People worship him worldwide and many more including me fondly study “his teachings”. But what if he never existed? While true believers scoff at such suggestions, the debate goes on.
But what after believing in him all one’s life, it turns out to be the Allah sitting in Heaven when you go there after death, as the Muslims believe. In Islam ‘there is no God except Allah’ – La Ilaha Illa Allah, in Arabic.
To solve this uncertainty an Italian judge ordered a priest to appear in court on January 3 2006 to prove that Jesus Christ existed as an historical figure.
This legal case against Father Enricho Righi was brought in the town of Vitero, north of Rome, by Signor Lugi Cascioli, a retired agronomist who once studied for the priesthood but later became a militant atheist and wrote a book called The Fable of Christ.
Cascioli (76) began legal proceedings against Father Righi, his former school mate after the priest denounced Cascioli in the parish newsletter (parish is a territorial unit under the care of a priest with a church), for questioning Christ’s historical existence.
So two ordinary men engaged in a battle that went right to the very top – Heaven, while at stake was more than one billion believers having to find a new religion.
When Maurtone, a judge in Vitero refused to take up the case, the Court of appeal over-ruled him, by agreeing that Signor Cascioli had a reasonable case for his accusation that Father Righi was “abusing popular credulity”.
Signor Cascioli’s contention echoed in numerous atheist books and internet sites was that there was no reliable evidence that Jesus lived and died in first-century Palestine apart from the Gospel accounts, which Christians took on faith.
There is, then, no reliable basis for Christianity. He claims that evidence for Jesus’ existence apart from the Bible is gleaned from statements made after the time of “the hypothetical Jesus” and therefore is unreliable.
According to Italian law “abuse of popular credulity” and “impersonation”, are both offences.
Signor Cascioli maintains that early Christian writers confused Jesus with John of Gamala, an anti-Roman Jewish insurgent in first-century Palestine. Church authorities were therefore guilty of “substitution of persons”.
He argues that the Gospels themselves were full of inconsistencies and did not agree on the names of the 12 apostles.
The Roman historian Tacitus and Suetonius mention a “Christus” or “Chrestus”, but were writing “well after the life of the purported Jesus” and were relying on hearsay.
Father Righi defended by saying that there was overwhelming testimony to Christ’s existence in religious and secular texts. Millions had in any case, believed in Christ as both man and son
of God for 2,000 years. In evidence he said:
(1) Tacitus, a Roman historian who lived from CE 55 to 120, mentions Christ in his Annals. The historian, who was born only a short time after the death of Jesus, says, “Nero fastened the guilt … on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.
Christus [Jesus], from where the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the
reign of Tiberius at the hands of … Pontius Pilatus, the Roman Governor of Palestile).
That Tacitus was writing a little after the time of Jesus is irrelevant. There is still powerful extra-biblical evidence that Jesus was an historical figure.
(2) Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote towards the end of first century, refers to Jesus twice in his Antiquities of Jews. He describes Jesus as “a wise man and one who “wrought surprising feats.” Josephus says Jesus “drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles”.
Some historians claim that Christians later edited the statements by Josephus and added things, but even without the alleged additions, even when we accept the testimony only of those portions of Josephus that are universally believed to be original, it is still obvious that Josephus believed that Jesus was an historical figure.
Josephus was a Jew and not a Christian. He had no reason to write about Jesus beyond a mere historical one. The evidence from his writings is a powerful and authoritative extra-biblical witness to the historicity of Jesus.
If the New Testament were the only document that describes the life of Christ, it is more than sufficient to prove his historicity. It was written only a short time after Jesus’ death and while many intimate witnesses to his life, crucifixion, and resurrection were still alive.
The fact that the previous statements and others that could be cited were written after the time of Jesus is insignificant. It is not uncommon for historical facts to be documented from material that was written after that time.
The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arian and Plutarch more than 4000 years after Alexander’s death. In spite of this, historians consider them trustworthy.
Muslims believe Jesus was a great prophet. Many Jewish theologians regard Jesus as an itinerant rabbi who popularised many of the beliefs of liberal Jews. Neither Muslims nor Jews believe he was the Messiah and Son of God.
After hours of drought and disappointment, the Italian Judge threw out the case on February 1 2006. The judge said that Senior Lugi Cascioli should himself face charges for slandering Father Enrich Righi.
Cascioli was considering taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
While the case was going on, American Evangelists were watching for the outcome with more than a keen interest. They said ‘if sceptics and atheists are now to take “Jesus” to court
(which should not concern Christians in view of the evidence supporting His historicity)
perhaps those same individuals will be consistent and put their beloved ‘theory of evolution’ on trial’.
“After all, evolutionary science professors worldwide teach students the “fact” that the Universe is the product of a Big Bang, yet no one has ever proven such to be the case. What’s more, students are repeatedly taught that life came from non-living chemicals billions of years ago, even though no one has ever witnessed spontaneous generation take place, and the law of biogenesis flatly contradicts this theory”.
This is typical of American evangelists. However, let’s look at the Bible.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
(Genesis 1:1, NIV)
Such a simple statement encapsulates the incredibly complex creation event. Could the creation of the universe be as simple as that? Has anybody proven that God created the universe? Has anyone witnessed the creation of Heavens and earth by God?
The writer is based in the UK