I had the misfortune of working on the wrong version of an essay this week. A student had emailed me a draft for comment. I am usually pretty meticulous about naming the files but this time I simply got it wrong and forgot that I had already commented on this version. (I did won-der why some things were familiar and why I thought I had commented similarly before.) Oh well –at least my comments second time round were very similar to the first set of comments! And it did make it easier for me to comment on the updated draft!
Manuscripts, drafts, updates, and editing have come a long way from parchment and quill! One click or key stroke can quickly correct an error or reshape the tone or change an emphasis. Before the printing press manuscripts were another story –and each told a story, not just the words written and the messages conveyed but where and when the manuscript was written. Was it an original manuscript or a copy and if a copy which manuscript was the source? And back you go in a ‘family tree’ of manuscripts. That’s how we know any history before the 15thcentury –by checking out both what the manuscripts say and their ‘pedigree’.
Christians point out that Jesus is a historical person. He is not a fantasy figure or a fairy tale. One of the non-biblical sources cited in this regard is the Jewish historian Josephus (37-100AD) who is not without his own story. He mentions Jesus.
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They re-ported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. And the tribe of Christians so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.” (Josephus: Antiquities: 63, 64 in a 10thCentury Arabic manuscript)
However if you wish to do a Sherlock Holmes and look at other (earlier) manuscripts you will find that there are differences in words and phrases which have been described as Christian scribes adding to Josephus when they were doing their work and ‘correcting’ him. This has meant that the passage above is called the ‘Disputed Testimonium Flavianum’. And the question becomes were the ‘Christian bits’ water down over the years or were the Christian bits ‘added’ over the years? That’s why you need to find as many manuscripts as possible.
Whichever way you decide on this issue, I think the following remains clear. That there was a historical Jesus. (He did exist.) That he was known to be wise and virtuous. That many –both Jews and Gentiles –followed him. That he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. That his disciples remained his disciples because they said, after three days dead, that Jesus is alive. That his disciples are now saying he is the Messiah –and they are still around. That’s what history says, in my opinion.
Today’s news, of course, adds to this history! ‘Christ is risen!’ And that story is still changing everything! GS