Jack S. Marshall Special Guest Educator

Finding The Historical Jesus

Written by Jack S. Marshall


Some critics argue that Biblical scholars have created the historical Jesus in their own image. A small number of scholars believe the gospel accounts are so mythical in nature that nothing, including the very existence of Jesus, can be determined from them.

An interest of mine in traveling to the Holy Lands is finding historical evidence of individuals and events from the Bible.

Most scholars questioned the actual existence of a Roman Governor with the name Pontius Pilate, the procurator who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion. Similarly they questioned the historical reliability of the Gospels. However in June 1961, Italian archaeologists… were excavating an ancient Roman amphitheater near Caesarea-on-the-Sea. They uncovered a limestone block. On the face was an engraved inscription which is part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar which clearly says that it was from “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.” This was a significant development in the quest for the historical Jesus, as scholars have confirmed the inscription to be authentic. (R. Russell, Fallen Empire, Bible History, 2010. p 1-2) Fun For Less tours to Israel takes you to see the stone and the remnants of Pilate’s Palace.

In Jerusalem recently, the remains of a crucified individual was found. The bones were preserved in a stone burial box called an ossuary and appeared to be those of a man about 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 24 to 28 years old. His open arms had been nailed to the crossbar, in the manner similar to that shown in crucifixion paintings. The knees had been doubled up and turned sideways, and a single large iron nail had been driven through both heels. The nail — still lodged in the heel bone of one foot, though the executioners had removed the body from the cross after death — was found bent, apparently having hit a knot in the wood. The shin bones seem to have been broken, corroborating what the Gospel of John suggests was normal practice in Roman crucifixions, that of breaking the legs of the crucified to expedite death. ( U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 25, 1999)

The discovery also posed a counterargument to objections some scholars have raised against the Gospels’ description of Jesus’ burial. It has been argued that the common practice of Roman executioners was to toss corpses of crucified criminals into a common grave or to leave them on the cross to be devoured by scavenging animals. So it hardly seems feasible, the argument goes, that Roman authorities would have allowed Jesus to be buried in Joseph of Arimatheas’ tomb. But with the remains of a crucified man found in a family grave, it is clear that at least on some occasions the Romans permitted proper interment consistent with the biblical account. On a Fun For Less tour to Israel you’ll see the tomb.

At the end of December, 1990, one of the most significant New Testament-related archaeological discoveries ever made came to light in Jerusalem. Construction workers accidentally exposed a Second Temple period tomb… Some of the ossuaries found in the tomb were inscribed with the name “Caiaphas,” and it soon became clear that this was a tomb belonging to the Caiaphas family. Inside a magnificently decorated ossuary inscribed with the name Joseph bar Caiaphas were bones of a 60-year- old male. These are almost certainly the remains of the high priest who tried and condemned Jesus to death mentioned in the New Testament and referred to by Josephus as “Joseph surnamed Caiaphas.”

One of the most impressive accounts about Jesus is from the writings of an ancient historian named Flavius Josephus who lived shortly after Jesus. He says: “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 Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst 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 from him, are not extinct at this day. (Antiquities of the Jews (Bk. XVIII.III.3, written in 93 C.E.)

Going to the Holy Land and seeing the remnants of these ancient people and reading of them from historical writings is thrilling it has always helped me visualize the events of the Bible and confirmed my faith.