In the hunt for physical evidence of Noah's Ark and proof that Moses parted the Red Sea, scholars have shown that science can support Biblical stories. But what about proof of Jesus? Is there physical evidence that Jesus, the alleged son of God and savior of mankind, was a real person?
Scholars and Christians have debated the reality of Jesus for centuries, searching for proof that Jesus walked the earth two thousand years ago. Some argue that Jesus is a myth, or an invention, rather than a real person. From images, to texts, to archaeological evidence and other physical proof, there is a great deal of evidence that Jesus was real. However, some of this evidence is problematic. At the end of the day, what does the physical evidence show?
The 1968 discovery of crucifixion evidence shows that it is possible to find physical proof of Jesus's existence. In the search for proof of Jesus in history, there are hundreds of physical objects in Christian churches that have been linked to Christ, from fragments of the cross to the crown of thorns. Many medieval churches even claimed to have found the circumcised foreskin of Jesus. But is this evidence reliable?
Skeptics point to the changing stories about Jesus in the last 2,000 years, including the shocking history of how Jesus became white. They dismissively claim that the only proof that Jesus is real comes from his own followers, who could have invented the story. But is there evidence of Jesus outside the Bible? It turns out that the answer is definitely yes.
Churches Claim To Have Pieces Of Jesus's Crucifixion Cross
Jesus was crucified on an enormous cross, according to the Gospels, and many have wondered if the cross still exists. In the medieval period, many churches, nobles, and royals claimed to possess a piece of the true cross, with pieces preserved in elaborate reliquaries. As the humanist Erasmus quipped in the sixteenth century, “So they say of the cross of Our Lord, which is shown publicly and privately in so many places, that, if all the fragments were collected together, they would appear to form a fair cargo for a merchant ship.”
Reports of the true cross started to spread in the fourth century, when one Christian reported that pieces of the cross were venerated in Jerusalem on Good Friday with deacons stationed nearby to make sure people didn't bite off a piece to take home. But crucifixion was considered a shameful death when Jesus died, and it appears unlikely that his earliest followers would have preserved the cross. As a result, it is not possible to prove that pieces of the cross are authentic.
Notre Dame Has A Crown of Thorns, But Is It Real?
Before Jesus was crucified, a crown of thorns was placed on his head. As described by John 19:2, "the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head," mockingly calling Jesus King of the Jews. For centuries, Christians have believed that pieces of the crown still exist today, providing physical proof of the crucifixion.
The oldest and most venerated crown of thorns is at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It can be dated back to the fourth century, and the French king acquired it in the thirteenth century. Before it reached France, the crown was kept in Jerusalem and Constantinople.
However, while it has a long history, there is no physical proof that the crown of thorns at Notre Dame was worn by Jesus.
Graffiti Could Be Strong Evidence Of Jesus's Existence
While early Christians had an incentive to produce texts and images that glorified Jesus, people who didn't follow Christ did not have the same motives. Thus, the most reliable evidence of Jesus might come from non-Christians who lived in the same time. One of the oldest images of Jesus comes from a piece of graffiti. It is called the Alexamenos Graffito, and it likely dates to around 200 CE.
The image shows a crucified man with the head of a donkey. It was found in Rome, but carries a Greek inscription that reads "Alexamenos worships God." The mocking image argues that Jesus was not actually God, but rather a foolish character, underscored by the donkey head.
However, the piece of graffiti still does not prove that Jesus was real. The best textual evidence may come from another non-Christian, the first-century scholar Flavius Josephus.
A Jewish Scholar Wrote About Jesus Only Decades After His Death
In 93 CE, only a handful of decades after the death of Jesus, a Jewish scholar and historian named Flavius Josephus mentioned Jesus twice. Josephus was born in Jerusalem in the 30s CE, the same decade Jesus was crucified. He wrote a series of histories of his era. In one of them, called the Antiquities, Josephus names Jesus as the "so-called Christ."
In a controversial passage, Josephus writes,
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 of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among 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.
The passage is controversial because many scholars believe it was corrupted by later Christian scribes who made Josephus's words more positive.