Evidence for Jesus
(footnotes & other links would go here)
Nearly all sources for Christianity exist in the NT
NT writers do quote outside sources, majority beings sayings (not new stories) about Jesus
Many ancient documents have surfaced including stories and sayings of Jesus
Egerton Papyrus 2 –> one of the oldest (British Museum, purchased in 1934). Confidently dated to
2nd century. 3 small fragments of papyrus document. Sayings of Jesus included similar to canonical
gospels, but different in detail
Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1, 654, 655 –> (1897 – 1907 excavations) found near city of
Oxyrhynchus (near W. bank of Nile). Greek fragments of sayings attributed to Jesus but not found
in Gospels. 16 isolated sayings caused excitement. How preserved not discovered until Nag Hammadi
library discovered, in which 7 sayings from Gospel of Thomas found and same as in Oxyrhynchus
Papyrus 654. Evdience of Greek original of coptic Gospel of Thomas
Nag Hammadi library –> near villiage of Nag Hammadi (1946 found). Jar containing 13 papyrus
books, ~1000 large pages. In Copitc (ancient Egyptian language, in Greek letters). No later than
second half of 4th century. Even extract from Plato’s Republic a part! Some sayings of Jesus
There have been many other finds as well
So, by end of 2nd century, many writings purported to give an account of Jesus, and many after.
Most focused on Jesus’ teaching rather than acts, also sayings alleged to him
Some sayings quoted by Christian writers
Gospel according to Hebrews
Gospel of Nazaraeans
Gospel of Ebionites
Many are gnostic interpretations (e.g. Nag Hammadi)
Gnosticism –> numerous in Egypt. Irenaeus attacked gnostic ideas. Appealed to the intellectual. Similar to
Theosophy or Rosicrucianism today, higher realms of truth and mysticism. It was dualistic: body as prison vs.
soul as spritual freedom. Jesus appeared only in human form. Set free by gnosis (knowlede). What matters is
Jesus’ teaching. Little known about the historical Jesus from these writings since teaching focused.
Problem: very different Jesus than NT protrays. Subjectiveness evident. However, these sayings of
Jesus can lead us to what may be genuine memories of Jesus.
Some uncanonical sayings of Jesus
A selection from the evidence
1. Some uncanonical sayings of Jesus
J. Jerimias –> agrapha: collection of unknown sayings of Jesus. He selected 21 sayings that are compatible
with NT sayings. This conclusion raises many questions, and data must be compared against the NT
Work on the sabbath (5th century) –> Codex Bezae story inserted in Luke 6:5. Might be genuine oral
remembrance of a saying of Jesus, but difficult to say.
Temptation (end of 2nd century) –> Tertullian records saying that no one will enter kingdoms of
heaven without being tempted, in Gethsemene. Plural of kingdom used. Hard to say how
Tertullian received this.
Ask great things –> Clement of Alexandria, “ask for great things and little things will be added to
you.” Origin also quotes the same. Similar to Mt. 6:33. Seems authentic, but hard to say.
Christians as money-changers –> ‘be approved money-changers’. Many, including Origen
quote this, cf. 1 Thess. 5:21. Consistent with Mt. 7:6; 10:16. How so often quoted and accepted
if not original?
They are only a few samples, and they add little or nothing new to Jesus’ theology.
Uncanonical stories of Jesus’ ministry
2. Some uncanonical stories of Jesus’ ministry
The rich man –> new version in Gospel according to Hebrews. Origin quotes in commentary
on Matthew. Focus of story shifts to humanitarian concern. Includes 2 rich men. More likely
this is re-working later on.
Encounter in the temple –> Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 840 includes account of Jesus and his
disciples at the temple, meeting a Pharisee chief priest Levi. Illustrates difference between
outward and inward cleansing (cf. Mk. 7:1-23). Possibly authentic. Problems: ‘chief priest’ as
Pharisee unusual, purification ritual mentioned not common. Still may preserve a tradition.
A miracle by the Jordan –> Egerotn Papyrus 2. Only a fragment, but indicates some kind of
nature miracle about fruiting of some plant.
Meeting with James –> 1 Cor. 15:7 says risen Jesus appeared to James (headed up Jerusalem
church). Jerome following Origen gives fuller account (Gospel acc. to Hebrews), says of James
that he was disciple before resurrection. Likelly a legend created to fill out Paul’s account.
|2. Jewish writers |
3. Stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood
Interest in a divine child lead to interest in Jesus’ childhood and birth and Mary as mother
Among infancy gospels was 2nd century work: Protevangelium of James
Protoevangelium of James –> popular, several languages preserved. Subject is not Jesus but
Mary. Tells of how she was born to prayer of childless couple Joachim and Anna (similar to
Samuel). Great care taken to tell of her virginity. Done to present Mary as object of worship,
and includes some miracles. Not super extravagent like later works.
The Infanacy Gospel of Thomas –> not same as coptic Gospel of Thomas. Popular and
preserved in several languages also. Some contents known to Muhammed (Qur’an). Convered
period up to age 12 of Jesus. Fanciful story about what a divine child might be like. Result is
docetic Jesus. Stories: Jesus making birds of caly on sabbath and clapping hands to make real,
cursing boys who died on the spot, healings, Jesus superior wisdom. Main difference betwen this
and other infancy writings is that, instead of new history, we have new imaginative sayins and
teachings of Jesus.
Gospel of Thomas
4. Gospel of Thomas
Compiled ~ AD 150
Most sayings identical to gospel sayings
Clearly gnostic values emerge, see p. 75-76
One saying very chauvanistic
These sayings are familiar to gnosticism, though foreign to the gospels
Some of these sayings were quoted by other writers, Origin and Clement of A.
Because material different from gospels not seem as authentic, circularity argument arises, yet
this point relies upon reliability of the gospel accounts (see next chapter)
Gospel of Peter
5. The gospel of Peter
No one quotes from this gospel, though some mention it
This gospel probably originated 2nd century, and includes accounts of Jesus’ life many from
canonical gospels, many independent.
One passage relates Jesus last hours and the darkness that ensued
Problem: docetism evident in passage about Jesus apparenly not feeling pain, uses words
‘taken up’ rather than died, desire to incriminate Jews. Much unhistorical but of apologetic
important to the author.
A secret Gospel of Mark
6. A secret Gospel of Mark
Letter of Clement of Alexandria found referring to the Secret Gospel of Mark
Letter in Greek, probably in 18th century, by hand, written in back of Ignatius’ letters
Many consider authentic, and became basis for radical reconstruction of Jesus life, see book
Jesus and the Magician
Clement accepts, but others of his writings show tendency to accept esoteric teachings, etc.
He was uncritical and almost gullible in accepting this kind of material
Note: Gospel of Barnabas is an Islamic writing, not comparable to other alternate gospels