On the Historical Jesus

If we can agree that the Bible should not be taken literally, then the question arises, how should it be taken? And if you are among the multitudes who call yourself a Christian, what does that mean; what does it mean to “believe” in Christ?

What We Know About Jesus

Part of the difficulty in locating the historical Jesus is that there is so little known about him. We can be reasonably sure that he lived; he was most likely born in Nazareth; he led an apocalyptic ministry for roughly three years; and he was crucified. That’s about all we know for sure. Jesus himself left no written record of anything; it is highly unlikely that he was even literate. There is no independent verification of his life: no record of an indictment, no transcript of a trial, no notation of his crucifxion.1 Almost all of what we do know comes from the four gospels of the New Testament, those of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, and more recently, the gnostic gospels. And, of course, the letters of Saint Paul. As “histories,” the gospels and letters are rather unreliable, for various reasons. Just to review:

  • First of all, the Gospels were variously written roughly between four and nine decades after Jesus’ death. No one who was alive actually knew Jesus was involved in the writing of the Gospels; the oral tradition that developed around his legend is, as with all oral traditions, unreliable. It is certainly an enhanced reading of what actually happened.
  • Second, the Gospels are generally acknowledged not to have been written by the authors to whom they’ve been attributed; these are known as “pseudepigraphical” works. It’s not even clear that they were written by one person.
  • Third, the Gospels are internally inconsistent. For example, the Gospel of Mark has no birthing narrative and no story of Jesus’ resurrection, while the birth narratives of Luke and Matthew have inconsistent birthing narratives. The Gospels also differ on what Jesus said at the end of his life: in Matthew and Mark, Jesus says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In Luke he says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” and in John he says, “It is finished.”
  • Fourth, all the Gospels were written after the destruction of the Second Temple and burning of the city of Jerusalem after the Jewish rebellion of 66 AD (also in some ways the beginning of the Jewish diaspora). The writers of the Gospel were very concerned about offending the Romans, and their portrayal of Jesus accordingly de-emphasized the messianic nature of Jesus’ ministry and the complicity of the Romans in bringing about his end. Instead they shifted the blame to the upper class of Jerusalem’s Jews.
  • Fifth, the New Testament excludes non-Canonical Gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Secret Book of John, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and other writings discovered near the town of Nag Hammadi in 1945.
  • And finally, there are the problems of translation and interpretation already discussed at length in the previous article on Biblical Literalism.

Even if we confine ourselves to the four Gospels of the New Testament, we quickly run into obvious contradictions and examples where the Canonical editors “spun” their story of Jesus in such a way as to be in accord with Old Testament prophecies. The birth narrative of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew locate Jesus as having been borne in Bethlehem, but he was almost certainly born in Nazareth. The reason for wanting to locate his birth in Bethlehem, the “City of David,” is that this is the city from which the savior is to arise. Likewise, Matthew’s narrative of Jesus fleeing into Egypt to escape Herod’s search for him is pure mythology designed to be aligned with the story of Moses. Not only is there not a shred of evidence for this as a historical event; in fact, it flies directly in the face of what is known about King Herod, whose life was relatively well documented.

Jesus is reported in the Gospel of Mark to have been a carpenter, which is not the same thing as the skilled craftsmen we know as carpenters today. In the Palestine of the turn of the Century this would have made him one of the lowest of the peasant classes, barely better than a beggar of slave. As a peasant Jesus would have been illiterate, and instead of speaking Hebrew, he would have spoken Aramaic. Jesus, almost certainly had a number of brothers and cousins, including his brother James, who took over his movement after the crucifixion. Jesus was likely born out of wedlock. He may have been married.

One of the few things that every Gospel seems to agree on is that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, an apocalyptic and charismatic preacher who was prophesizing about the end of times. However, the Gospels struggle with how to interpret this symbolically: that Jesus let himself be baptized by John when Jesus is supposed to be the son of God. So, they create contrivances by having God speak after Jesus’ baptism, letting everyone know that “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

After John the Baptist was sized by Herod Antipas, Jesus essentially inherited his ministry, and began wandering from town to town performing miracles, exorcisms, and healing the sick. By all available evidence, his ministry stayed within the confines of Galilee. The type of ministry that Jesus was involved in was apparently not that uncommon at the time; but unlike other wandering healers, Jesus did not charge for his services. This alone provided him with some notoriety.

If we take the Gospels at their word, it appears that the central theme and unifying message of Jesus’s brief three-year ministry was the promise of the coming Kingdom of God. This Kingdom was not some far-off goal in an otherworldly state, but as proclaimed by Jesus, John the Baptist, and other messianic preachers of his era, a tangible kingdom that would free the Jews of Palestine from the oppression of Rome. Yahweh, the God of Abraham, would help the Jews triumph over their oppressors, the Romans, and they would triumph over them by slaying them.

Eventually, after three years of itinerant preaching, it appears that Jesus decides to take his message directly into Jerusalem. Why he made this choice is entirely unclear. Instead of making a discreet entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus chooses to go to the Temple — the central institution of Jewish religious life everywhere — and directly challenge its Guardians. There he famously turned over the tables of the money changers, liberated the animals waiting for sacrifice, and generally caused havoc. Subsequently, appearing to know what the likely response was going to be, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane with his disciples to await his capture.

It is highly unlikely that Pontius Pilate gave Jesus a “trial”; Pilate was famous for sending thousands to be crucified as enemies of the state without any process at all. Nor is it likely that Jesus received much of a hearing from the high priest Joseph Caiaphas, who had essentially been Pilates’ in-house Jewish administrator for Jerusalem. Crucifixion was, by all accounts, a common Roman punishment for any “enemies of the State,” and had even been used by Jewish authorities as a punishment. Jesus, by proclaiming himself the “King of the Jews” had directly challenged the authority of the Roman governance of Palestine.

Crucifixion was designed as a public spectacle, and the bodies of the dead were routinely not buried; instead they were left on the cross so that animals could peck at the carcasses. For these reasons, it is also highly unlikely that a peasant insurrectionist, such as Jesus, was ever buried. He certainly would not have been buried in a “tomb,” which was a kind of burial reserved exclusively for the wealthy.

In the four Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus did not proclaim himself to be a God and he did not indicate that belief in him would “save” anybody. Jesus referred himself to the deliberately ambiguous phrase that he was the “Son of Man.” Instead, Jesus proclaimed that to have eternal life his followers must obey the Jewish laws and the Ten Commandments. Jesus does not condemn slavery or homosexuality; he says nothing at all about abortion; a fair reading of his ministry, as much as it can be discerned from the Gospels, suggests that his primary concern was for the poor and dispossessed, and for liberation from the oppression of the Romans. Although not personally violent, he does not proclaim himself to be a pacifist, but is ready to use the sword; and Jesus condemns the rich in no uncertain terms. Famously, he says that it is easier for a “camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” After the beatitudes, he presents us with the woes. To wit: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”

So where did we get the notion that all you had to do to be saved was to believe in Jesus? There seem to be two primary sources for this: first, the Apostle Paul, and second, the two “Great Awakenings” in the United States of the 1800s. A few words about the Apostle Paul (originally known as Saul of Tarsus): he was not, as is generally understood, one of the twelve apostles. He never met Jesus; in fact, early in his career he actively persecuted believers in Jesus until he himself had his conversion on the “Road to Damascus.” As the story goes, Paul was actually on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus and imprison them when there was a blinding light and a voice from the heavens asking Paul, “why do you persecute me?” Paul was blinded for several days. Upon his recovery he converted to a follower of Jesus. Following his conversion, Paul became a major force in the nascent Christian movement, but much of what he advocated has little to no relationship to what Jesus actually preached, such as that salvation can be achieved simply through a belief in Jesus.

The Creation of the Early Church

If we don’t know that much about Christ, we know a good deal about the Church that grew up in his name. First of all, Saint Paul was primarily the creator of the Christian religion. The earliest followers of Jesus composed an apocalyptic sect, occurring during the lifetimes of the Twelve Apostles. What followed was the “Ante-Nicene Period” (literally meaning “before Nicaea”), which bridged the divide between the Apostles and the First Council of Nicaea on May 20, 325 AD in what is now Turkey.

The years following the crucifixion of Jesus and death of the last of the Twelve apostles is traditional known as the “Apostolic Age.” The apostles are believed to have received the “Great Commission,” the instruction of the resurrected Jesus Christ to spread his message of the coming Kingdom of God to all the nations. This is represented in Matthew 28:16–20, when Jesus calls on his followers to ” make disciples of all nations” and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.2 The first Christians were all Jews, constituting a “Second Temple” Jewish sect with an apocalyptic eschatology, which is to say that they were expecting the second coming of Jesus and the start of God’s Kingdom in the near future, and certainly within most of their own lifetimes.

Early followers of Jesus were known as “Jewish Christians” and integrated the belief that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah of Jewish lore with his teachings into the Jewish faith. What eventually led to a growing split was the inclusion of gentiles (non-Jews) into the cult. From this split “orthodox” Christianity eventually arose, while mainstream Judaism developed into “Rabbinic” Judaism.

Now it may be asked, why did some Jews buy into the myth of Jesus Christ while others rejected it. The first thing to note is that what the Old Testament predicts about a coming Messiah is a warrior King in the mode of King David, and that is definitely not what Jesus is. In addition, the predictions relative to the Messiah that Christians thought Jesus fulfilled are mostly predictions of things that don’t necessarily involve a Messiah.3

The big separation involves the question of whether one believes that Jesus was resurrected. There are various explanations of why followers of his might have believed that Jesus was resurrected. Using the principle of Occam’s razor, none of these explanations seem especially convincing, but they seem more convincing than the alternative: that Jesus was actually raised from the dead. It’s not an argument that can be resolved 2000 years after the fact. But it’s what distinguishes Jesus from the other apocalyptic preachers of his day roaming around greater Palestine.

Saint Paul also helped to drive a wedge between Jews and the early Christians by arguing forcefully that one did not need to follow the Jewish law to believe in or be saved by Christ. In fact, Paul argued that it was counterproductive for non-Jews to follow the Jewish law because all that was necessary to be saved was to believe in Jesus and his resurrection.

The early years of the Church is narrated in the Book of Acts and establishes that the apostles did indeed go out far beyond Jerusalem, and did indeed spread the “good news” first around greater Palestine, and then to non-Jews living around the Mediterranean. The Book of Acts also narrates the conversion of Saint Paul (discussed above). Nascent Christians generally used the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh), all the while they were developing their own canon, including the canonical gospels, Acts, letters of the Apostles, and Revelation.

Early on in its development, Christianity had different schools of thought, including what are now known as the Ebionite, Marcionist and Gnostic schools, as well as what is sometimes called the “proto-Orthodox,” or those who would develop orthodox Christian doctrine. The Ebionites, for example, regarded Jesus as the Messiah while rejecting his divinity and his virgin birth; they insisted on the necessity of following Jewish law; the revered James, the brother of Jesus (“James the Just“) and rejected the teachings of Saint Paul; they placed a special value on voluntary poverty; and they used only one of the gospels, the Hebrew Book of Matthew. The Marcionists, on the other hand, originating in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope, believed that Jesus was the savior sent by God, and that Saint Paul was his chief apostle. They, however rejected the Hebrew Bible and Yahweh, the God of Israel; instead they believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. And Gnostics (from the Ancient Greek gnostikos, or “having knowledge”) considered the route to salvation to be through direct knowledge of the supreme divinity (thereby foreshadowing Protestantism, evangelicalism and the Great Awakenings).

What is clear is that the early Christian religion got a tremendous boost from the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (AD 306–337). Historians remain uncertain about Constantine’s reasons for favoring Christianity. It may be that his mother Helena initially exposed him to Christianity. In any case, what is known is that prior to a succession battle with a rival emperor, Maxentius — this was part of a competition to resolve the Tetrarchy, where four Roman emperors essentially competed as to who would reign supreme — it appears that Constantine had a dream that he should to stamp on the shields of his soldiers the heavenly sign of God, as directed either by an Angel or by Jesus Christ himself. Which he did. His troops had engraved on their shields the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek combined as a monogram (known as a “Chi Rho“). At the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, Constantine and his forces were victorious. 4 Following the battle, the new emperor ignored the altars prepared for the traditional Gods, and did not carry out the customary sacrifices. Some scholars allege that his main objective in turning to Christianity was to gain unanimous approval and submission to his authority, and that Christianity was the most appropriate religion that could fit with the Imperial cult (Sol Invictus). By 313 Constantine had issued the Edict of Milan, intended to treat Christians benevolently within the Roman Empire. Although the Edict of Milan gave Christianity a legal status, it did not make Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire. That codification took place under a later emperor Theodosius I in AD 380 with the Edict of Thessalonica. Regardless, under the Constantine, Christianity expanded substantially throughout the Empire. 5

The Arian Controversy

One of the ironies of Christianity as a “monotheistic” religion is its tripartite nature: the doctrine of the Father (Yahweh), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. 6 The doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons or “hypostases”; the three persons are distinct, yet are one “substance, essence or nature.” Each entity is God, whole and entire, and yet they are distinct from one another in their relations of origin. As the Fourth Lateran Council declared, “it is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.” The Trinity is considered to be a “mystery of Christian faith.” I don’t know about that, but it certainly remains a mystery to me.

To get to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity the early church had to go through what has become known as the “Arian Controversy.” The controversy involved the early Christian theologians Arius, a famed Libyan presbyter and ascetic on one side, and Athanasius, the 20th bishop of Alexandria on the other. The controversy revolved primarily around the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Arius emphasized God the Father’s uniqueness and Christ’s subordination under the Father. The disagreement reigned for the period between the First Council of Nicaea in 325 until the First Council of Constantinople in 359. There was no formal “resolution” of the controversy, although the Trinitarian faction ultimately gained the upper hand in the Church.

Arius had formulated the following syllogism in opposition to the Trinitarian ideal: “If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he had his substance from nothing.” This syllogism would eventually be challenged by Bishop Alexander and the Trinitarian forces, but not before Arian’s ideas had spread throughout the early Church. At the Council of Nicea, those who upheld the notion that Christ was co-eternal and con-substantial with the Father were led by the young archdeacon Athanasius. Those who instead insisted that God the Son came after God the Father in time and substance were led by Arius and his forces. For about two months, the two sides argued and debated, with each appealing to Scripture to justify their respective positions. The majority of the bishops at the Council ultimately agreed on what became known as the Nicene Creed. The creed, in its contemporary form, reads like this:

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.
      For us and for our salvation
           he came down from heaven;
           he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
           and was made human.

           He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
           he suffered and was buried.
           The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
           He ascended to heaven
           and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
           He will come again with glory
           to judge the living and the dead.
           His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the Lord, the giver of life.
      He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
      and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
      He spoke through the prophets.
      We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
      We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
      We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
      and to life in the world to come. Amen.

Arius and two of his partisans were ultimately exiled from the Roman empire. The controversy raged on for a while longer, but was eventually resolved completely in favor of the Trinitarians. The expulsion of Arius and his disciples did not, however, end the controversy, which raged on in various forms for several more centuries.

Subsequent Development of the Church

After the First Council of Nicaea in 325, there were a number of other major councils at which Catholic orthodoxy was determined (collectively known as the First Seven Ecumenical Councils). These include the First Council of Constantinople in 381, the First Council of Ephesus in 431, the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, the Third Council of Constantinople in 680–681, and the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, as well as a number of lesser councils.

Through the patronage of Constantine and subsequent emperors, the “Catholic” (or “Universal”) church developed a large following. The head of the Church was the Bishop of Rome, later to be known as the Pope. The first great schism in Christianity occurred when the Eastern Orthodox communities split from the Catholic Church because of by ecclesiastical differences, theological disputes, and the Pope’s claim to universal jurisdiction. Pope Leo IX excommunicated the followers of Michael Cærularius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who eventually returned the compliment, and ex-communicated the followers of the Pope.

The second great schism was the arrival of the Protestant (or “Protesting”) reformation, through the persons of Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546), John Calvin (10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564), and Ulrich Zwingli (1 January 1484 – 11 October 1531). Also contributing was the political separation of the Church of England from Rome under Henry VIII, beginning in 1529 and completed in 1536. The initial catalyst for the reformation was Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses.” Although it was only one of 94, the central and most controversial thesis was Luther’s opposition to the Catholic practice of selling “indulgences,” which involved the remission of temporal punishment for sins which have already been forgiven. In other words, indulgences were granted by the Catholic Church after the sinner had confessed and received absolution; they were granted for specific good works and prayers. Following the excommunication of Martin Luther and condemnation of the Reformation by the Pope, the writings of John Calvin in Switzerland were influential in northern Europe. These theological disputes led to significant warfare, including the German Peasants’ War of 1524–1525 in the Bavarian, Thuringian and Swabian principalities; the Thirty Years’ War of 1618–1648 in most of Central Europe; and the Civil War of the 1640s in England.

In the 20th century, Protestantism, especially in the United States, was characterized by accelerating fragmentation. The century saw the rise of both liberal and conservative splinter groups. Although the doctrines of Protestant denominations are far from uniform, some beliefs extending across Protestantism are the doctrines of sola scriptura — which maintains that the Bible (rather than church tradition or ecclesiastical interpretations of the Bible) is the primary and supreme source of binding authority for all Christians — and the doctrine of sola fide — which holds that salvation comes by grace through faith alone in Jesus as the Christ — rather than through good works. Over the years, Protestantism has split into the major denominations of Adventists, Anabaptists, Baptists, Calvinists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostalists, Presbyterians, and Unitarians. Within those major denominations there are dozens of individual churches, many in opposition to each other theologically.

Finally, not to be neglected entirely are the uniquely American churches, including the Mormons, (or Latter Day Saints) which began with the visions of Joseph Smith in upstate New York during the 1820s, and the Christian Scientists, developed by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), based on her reading of the Bible and her personal experience, and described in her book Science and Health (1875). I’m excluding from this discussion religions like Scientology, which is not based in Christianity, but the fantasies of L. Ron Hubbard.

The Dilemma of the Sophisticated Believer

If we can’t believe the Bible literally, then how do we believe it metaphorically? This is the dilemma of the sophisticated believer. In order to call yourself a Christian, a person must “believe” in Christ. More specifically, he or she must believe in salvation through Christ. Or so it seems. Otherwise, what would it mean to be a Christian?

However, Christ, as we’ve already seen, has not claimed that salvation comes through belief in him. Salvation comes through feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick, and keeping the Jewish laws. Particularly the Ten Commandments. That salvation comes through belief in Jesus is the assertion of Saint Paul.

But let’s deconstruct that notion a little bit more. As developed by ecclesiastical authorities, Jesus died to atone for our sins. The concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons. Sin is disobedience to the “will” of God (if that can be ascertained) In Christian soteriology, original or ancestral sin was accomplished by the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, and is distinguished from mortal sin, venial sin, and the seven deadly sins. The concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons in his controversy with certain dualist Gnostics.

What does a sophisticated believer do with this?

But wait, there’s more! For example, depending on how one counts, there are at least five different theories of atonement (not counting various splinter theories). These include the moral influence theory, the ransom theory, the satisfaction theory, the penal substitution theory, and a theory known as Christus Victor. These are mostly variations on a theme, the theme being that Christ died for our sins either as a ransom sacrifice to the Devil, or as a substitute on behalf of humankind satisfying the demands of God’s honor, or as punishment in the place of sinners on a substitution theory, or as the means by which the powers of evil were defeated. The most enlightened of these theories is, I suppose, the moral influence theory of the atonement, which teaches that the purpose and work of Jesus Christ was to bring positive moral change to humanity through his teaching and example and the inspiring effect of his martyrdom and resurrection.

Many sophisticated believers just jettison this whole set of questions and believe that what is important is to behave and live as a “good person.” For them, there may be a wise God out there somewhere, neither male nor female, who is wise and good and invisibly guiding us in the right direction. They may pray from time to time, although not expecting an actual answer from their God. They may believe in the existence of the soul, and some kind of incorporeal afterlife, without attaching too many specifics to the equation. All these things I can identify with and relate to. But that begs the question, are these believers still “Christian?” How is that different from any generic philosophy of goodness, in which Jesus is just at the forefront of a series of wise men? It certainly doesn’t make Jesus a “God.”

Jesus as Just Another Wise Man

The notion of Jesus as just another wise man is perhaps best personified by Tom Krattenmaker, the Director of the Communications Office at the Yale Divinity School and the Author of a book entitled the “Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower.” Krattenmaker is out front and open about the fact that he does not consider himself to be a Christian. As Krattenmaker writes about Jesus:

In the pantheon of philosophers, prophets, teachers, artists, moral exemplars, and sages from the ages, one stands out for me as a particularly promising figure for our time. He is a figure of unusual wisdom and deeply moving strangeness who calls me to reconceive the orientation of my own life and the manner in which I engage my fellow humans. His story compels me to access my often-reluctant generosity and pull myself out of my self-centered worries and obsessions. . . . I do not claim there is only one figure or source from whom we can learn and draw inspiration, whom we can emulate. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and others have much to offer, and this is not an either-or exploration . . . But one figure stands out. That figure is Jesus.

Krattenmaker, Tom. Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower (pp. 7-8).

Krattenmaker is attracted not only to the “Golden Rule” and the Sermon on the Mount, but also Jesus’ advocacy for the poor and dispossessed, his healing of the sick, his acceptance of the shunned.

My guess is that there are many people out there who feel vaguely Christian, but don’t feel the need to be saved. They don’t believe in original sin and may have no opinion on the Trinitarian conception of Jesus, but see him as vaguely holy and commendable.

These are all thoughts and feelings that I have sympathy for, and can understand. But does it make these people Christian? In any formal sense, I think the answer has to be “no.”

Return to discussion of Biblical LiteralismProceed to discussion on not being a Christian
  1. In fact, the first time Jesus is mentioned in a civil (non-religious) source is in the year 112 CE, when Pliny the Younger wrote to the emperor Trajan indicating that there was a group of people called “Christians” who “worship Christ as a God” and who were meeting illegally. Pliny wants advice on how to handle the situation. The next evidence of Jesus being mentioned in a civil authority comes from the Roman historian Tacitus who, in writing his history of Rome mentions a fire set by Nero in Rome in the year 64, for which the emperor blamed “the Christians.” Tacitus further explains that the Christians got their name from “Christus,” who was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate “in the reign of Tiberius.” Tacitus goes on to say that the “superstition” of Christianity first appeared in Judea before spreading to Rome and other places.
  2. I’m not quite sure how one baptizes “a nation,” but let’s leave that out of the equation for now.
  3. This issue of whether Jesus met the Old Testament predictions relative to the Messiah is discussed extensively in Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus, Interrupted,” previously cited.
  4. Maxentius drown in the Tiber River below, over which the bridge crossed. But that wasn’t enough, so naturally Constantine had him beheaded and had his paraded through the streets of Rome.
  5. It’s still a matter of debate as to whether Constantine’s conversion to Christianity was “sincere.” Although he “formally” converted in 312, he was only baptized on his deathbed in 337 by the bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia.
  6. I have yet to read an explanation of the Holy Spirit that allows me to understand what it is and how it is supposed to function. Or why it is necessary.