Is Jesus History?

Joel Kell

07/08/2020

Who was Jesus? Was he real? If so, what did he do? Can the bible be trusted about what it says about him?

I’m a Christian. Not only by faith, but also because I believe that there is good evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that if Jesus is who he says he is, then he is worth following. However, not everyone thinks this. Some people look at the evidence for Jesus and conclude that he wasn’t who he said he was and choose not to follow him. However, surprisingly, there is an increasing amount of people who don’t believe that Jesus was a historical figure at all and dismiss anything he could have to say out of hand right from the get-go.

John Dickson writes Is Jesus History? for you, regardless of which camp you belong in. If you don’t think Jesus existed, it’s for you. If you do think he existed, but don’t know the historical arguments, it’s for you. If you think he existed, and do know the arguments, it’s also for you to read with, or give to, a friend.

“Anyone who want to examine the unique claims of Christianity – which centre on the person of Jesus more than religious philosophy, morals, or rituals – should do so with an honest assessment of themselves as much as the evidence”

What's it all about?

In this short book, coming in at just over 150 pages, Dickson lays out clearly the different historical reasons why we have reason to believe not only that Jesus was a real person, but also how much we know about what the real person of Jesus did and how he lived. Dickson once went as far as to declare on public radio that he would eat a page from his bible if anyone could find one professor of Ancient History, Classics or New Testament in any real university anywhere in the world who believed that Jesus never lived. Needless to say, he has yet to physically eat the Word of God.

Dickson shows how we can confidently say that Jesus was a Jewish teacher who lived in the early first century, was famed as a healer, taught about the Kingdom of God, had 12 disciples, fraternised with sinners, clashed with the Jewish elite, believed he was about to be killed, and subsequently was, dying of crucifixion. His tomb was somehow found empty, and his followers truly believed that he rose from the dead.

“The best lines of historical reasoning today can and do, and probably should, lead fair-minded enquirers to the conclusion that the New Testament contains good testimony about the figure of Jesus”

The Meat

Is Jesus History? is split into 10 short chapters which read easily and clearly, and don’t assume any prior academic or historical knowledge. Dickson also encourages the reader to do the research themselves and provides a plethora of sources which are used to draw the conclusions that he, and all other scholars, have reached.

Dickson begins in the early chapters by discussing such things as the historical techniques used for analysing any historical event or person and the role of faith in everyday life. Dickson shows how we have faith all throughout our days, and in what we believe. He also shows how our experiences of bad faith help us to distinguish whether the information we have can be held in good, or bad, faith. He helpfully notes as well that the meaning of faith is not as it is often used today, to believe something without evidence, but rather that something is credible, trustworthy, or reliable.

Dickson uses both biblical sources, the over 5500 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, the writings of the Gospel writers and the apostle Paul, and non-biblical sources, such as Tacitus and Josephus, to support the claims made about Jesus. He also explains that all secular dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and histories, have no doubts about the existence and life of Jesus. Contrary to popular belief, as the years go by, we become more certain about aspects of Jesus life, rather than less.

The archaeological evidences that Dickson presents, such as the discovery of what is believed to be the Pool of Bethesda, inscriptions made by Pontius Pilate, and a tomb of a Jewish person who had been crucified, all serve to corroborate the realities of 1st century life as detailed in the Gospel accounts.

“We even have precisely the evidence we might expect if Jesus also rose again from the dead”

In the final chapter Dickson discusses the resurrection, and how the disciples and early followers of Jesus truly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, regardless of whether he actually had or not. He also talks about the science behind whether or not people are likely to believe in the occurrence of miracles, regardless of the evidences for or against.

In Conclusion

Dickson does not presume the reader is a Christian, or that even if they are convinced of the historical accuracy of Jesus that they will come to the same conclusions about him that a Christian might. However, as he concludes he leaves no doubt to the question posed by the title, that Jesus is indeed history.

About the Author

John Dickson is the author of more than 15 books, and the presenter of three TV documentaries on the history of Christianity. He teaches a course on the origins of Christianity at the University of Sydney and is the Distinguished Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Public Christianity at Ridley College, Melbourne.