The Verifiability Of History

In a previous chapter, "Why The Bible Cannot Be Legend," it was shown that because everything that happens has both consequences and a definite context, it is possible to determine whether or not a given historical account is trustworthy. This is especially clear in the historical accounts of the life of Christ in the New Testament. Consider the following observations by the Roman Catholic Scholar, Daniel-Rops:

The life of Christ is set definitely in historical time, not in some remote legendary period as are the traditions concerning Orpheus, Osiris or Mithra. The Roman Empire of the first century is known to us in remarkable detail. Great men like Livy or Seneca, whose work has come down to us, were writing when Jesus was alive. Virgil, had he not died at the early age of fifty-one, might have been living in his childhood; Plutarch and Tacitus were of the generation that followed him. Furthermore, very many of the personages who appear in the narratives concerning Jesus appear also in other historical documents--for example, those whom St. Luke mentions in the third chapter of his Gospel, Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, the priests Annas and Caiphas, and John the Baptist, whose life and apostolate are recounted by Josephus.

And that is not all: the ideas and the behavior, the whole setting which precisely dates a human existence, are, for those who take the trouble to compare, exactly those depicted for us by contemporary Palestinian sources.

The man therefore is fixed in a social and political milieu which has been exhaustively studied. No mythical existence could be related so precisely to its setting.1

In the opening sections of his book, Daniel-Rops relentlessly forces the reader to come to grips with the inescapable reality of Jesus Christ, and he does so by confronting us with the fabric of history into which Jesus is interwoven, and by demonstrating to us that what presently exists could not possibly exist apart from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The miracles of the life of Christ "cannot be detached from the stuff of his existence, except by rending the whole fabric, denying this existence, casting doubt on all those who have testified to him."2

The life of Christ made an indelible imprint on all of humanity, yet that this should have happened at all is in itself a miracle. "That this man of poor and uncultivated stock should remake the basis of philosophy and open out to the world of the future an unknown territory of thought; that this simple son of a declining people, born in an obscure district in a small Roman province, this nameless Jew like all those others despised by the Procurators of Caesar, should speak with a voice that was to sound above those of the Emperors themselves, these are the most surprising facts of history."3 In our own day and age we live with these consequences of the life of Christ. Whether we like it or not, he made an indelible mark upon all of humanity. If we deny his existence, not only do we do violence to the fabric of history, but we deny what is presently the case.

1 Daniel-Rops, Jesus and His Times (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1956), p. 11.

2 Ibid., p. 10.

3 Ibid.


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