I believe in the death of Julius Caesar and the resurrection of Jesus Christ


Mark Twain famously described faith as “believing something you know isn’t true.” He has probably noticed that quite a few Christians behave this way. But what about that? Do thoughtful Christians believe in Jesus’ bodily resurrection despite or because of the lack of proof? Today is a good opportunity to reflect on some evidence of what forms the core of the Christian faith.

On the fifteenth of March – that is, on a day called the Ides in March, May, July and October in the ancient Roman calendar – in 44 BC, dozens of Roman senators murdered Julius Caesar. Almost seventy-seven years later, on April 5, 33 AD, on a Sunday or a day close to it, Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

We can verify the legitimacy of belief in both events by four historical procedures, which are used to find out the truth about the past. .

Distinguish between two methods

The scientific method records observations, makes hypotheses and predictions (forecasts), performs repeatable experiments, and analyzes the results. Countless unrepeatable facts, however, cannot be revealed by the scientific method.

It cannot be scientifically proven that Caesar crossed the Rubicon in January 49, or that George Washington crossed the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, or that Allied troops crossed the English Channel on June 6, 1944. Reasonable people believe in the authenticity of these events because the historical method has proven it.

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This method was defined by historian Louis Gottschalk as “the critical examination and analysis of the records and remains of the past”. The job of a “conscientious historian” is to study documents, examine remains, gather facts, and search for evidence without any personal bias.

Using abductive reasoning, historians work toward an interpretation that best fits the facts.

At the heart of Christianity is the historical claim that Jesus rose from the dead. To dismiss this claim with reference to science is to ignore the fact that science has its limits. Paul admitted that “if Christ has not been raised, then our message is false” (1 Cor 15:14). Unlike other religions, the central claims of Christianity can be verified as well as falsified by the historical method.

Consider two intervals –

firstly over the time gap between the event and the original manuscript that reports on it. The shorter this interval, the closer the author is to the actual events. How do we know that Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC? We were not there, but we believe it for the same reasons as many events in the past that were written by eyewitnesses or reported by others who wrote it down.

Many people believe the report about Caesar’s murder only because they read Shakespeare’s famous drama “Julius Caesar” during their high school studies, first performed in 1599. Shakespeare’s source was Plutarch’s Biographies of Famous Greeks and Romans (see https://www.databazeknih.cz /knihy/zivotopisy-slavnych-reku-a-rimanu-i-78236 and https://www.databazeknih.cz/knihy/zivotopisy-slavnych-reku-a-rimanu-ii-56347) in the English translation of Thomas North from 1579. However, Plutarch wrote these biographies in the early 2nd century AD, about 160 years after the murder, so he could not have been an eyewitness. So who did he draw from?

For part of his material, Plutarch used Caesar’s Notes on the Gallic War (see https://www.databazeknih.cz/knihy/zapisky-o-valce-galske-336). Caesar himself was certainly an eyewitness to his murder. Of course, he didn’t write much about him. Cicero was probably an eyewitness, but he died a year later and did not record the details of that fateful day. Plutarch did not have access to eyewitnesses to the event, but probably, as a leading member of Roman society, he had access to documents and oral traditions that are now lost to us. So the time gap between Caesar’s assassination and Plutarch’s original document is around 160 years.

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And now let’s compare it: the eyewitness accounts of the resurrection in the New Testament were written by eyewitnesses and people very close to them. Unlike Plutarch, who wrote 160 years after Caesar’s death, the New Testament authors wrote during the lifetime of eyewitnesses who could either confirm or deny the two main claims—the empty tomb and those situations during which the resurrected Jesus appeared on the scene.

As early as AD 50, Paul continues to report that Jesus has risen from the dead (Gal 1:1). If Christ died in AD 33, the time gap between the resurrection and the earliest original manuscript account is less than twenty years. At the same time, we do not have the original manuscripts of Plutarch or any New Testament author. which is common in ancient history. That is why the second interval is of crucial importance.

This is the interval between the original manuscript and the ones we have today. He uses the historical method of textual criticism to examine existing manuscripts (manuscript copies) in order to reconstruct the original. The shorter this interval, the better.

The time gap between Plutarch’s original manuscript of the Biographies and those available to us today exceeds 800 years. The interval between the original manuscript of the Gospel of John and the fragment that exists today is 50 years.

New Testament scholar Darrel Bock concludes: “When comparing what the classical sources say about Jesus and Caesar, the situation is favorable for the Gospels. And if such work with sources helps classical philology and Caesarological research, it should also apply to Jesus.”

Compare the double frequency

Just as more witnesses are better in court proceedings, this is generally true of manuscripts. Even in solid manuscripts, details are missing that the writers did not see, or there are additional details that they only thought they saw. If we consider the various testimonies as a whole, there will not be so many differences in unimportant details, but the essentials about the event will be clear.

If we compare the number of New Testament manuscripts with other ancient documents, the preponderance of historical evidence for the New Testament is clear. Fewer than ten manuscripts of the various parts of Plutarch’s Biographies are known, while the number of manuscripts of the various parts of the New Testament is 23,986. Astonishing!

New Testament scholar Dan Wallace estimates that the stack of all extant New Testament manuscripts would be taller than four Empire State Buildings—that is, four times the height of the building that became the world’s tallest building in 1931. In contrast, the stack of extant manuscripts of all the classical Greek writings would reach a height of just over a meter.

Consider two motives

How – even with the reliable presence of the original document – do we find out whether the author is telling the truth or making up lies?

There are usually two reasons for lying: to gain something pleasurable or to avoid something that hurts. The day of Caesar’s assassination and the account of it as given by Plutarch are widely accepted by the people. Plutarch did not write anything controversial or politically dangerous that would damage his reputation or social standing. What he wrote only increased his status in the cream of society. It was simply an ancient analogue of today’s publishing contracts, in which he did not have much to lose due to the historical claims in his writing – on the contrary, he had much to gain.

The first disciples of Jesus either told the truth or they didn’t. But why would they lie? Their bold claims were controversial and politically dangerous. Because of sharing what they saw with their own eyes (Acts 1:22), they lost their position, their property, their freedom – and some even their lives.

Historians have not missed that such hardship is proof of the document’s veracity. Gottschalk notes: “If a certain testimony can harm the witness himself, his loved ones, or some of his affairs, it is believed to be true.” By declaring that they had seen the resurrected Christ, the disciples greatly harmed themselves as well as their families and closest friends. That they consistently and persistently bore witness to this can best be explained by the fact that they were telling the truth.

Sure – many religious fanatics of all kinds were prepared to die for what they believed. But while many people will die for what they believe to be true, no one will die for something they know is not true. The disciples did not bear witness to the resurrection because they could gain something by doing so. They testified to the resurrection because it actually happened.

Only a few weirdos obsessed with history remembered the Ides of March this year, but even the banks didn’t consider them a holiday they should be closed for. However, billions of people on every inhabited continent will celebrate Christ’s resurrection this Easter. Caesar gave the world the Julian calendar, but something happened during the first century that makes us count the years from the birth of a certain carpenter’s son. And not because of his teachings – rabbis come and go. The reason for the crucifixion of countless enemies of Rome was his death.

On that day, two thousand and sixty-eight years ago, Caesar died in Rome, and the world takes it as a historical footnote. Just seventy-seven years later, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead took place in Jerusalem – and the world has never been, is, and will never be the same again.

Author: Steve Bateman Source: The Gospel Coalition Date: April 2, 2024 Photo: Pixabay – Illustrative

Translation: Ivana Kultová

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The article is in Czech

Tags: death Julius Caesar resurrection Jesus Christ


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