Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Evidence for Jesus - Did He exist?


Evidence for Jesus – His Early Life and Ministry

The evidence for Jesus starts with the place of his birth in Bethlehem. The The Church of the Nativity is generally considered a credible historical site, with the traditional cave of Christ’s birth being marked by the ornate Star of Bethlehem. Terraced hills containing shepherds’ flocks still encircle the small city. On the Sea of Galilee, Christ’s childhood town of Nazareth is still active today. In addition, ancient harbors matching the biblical record have been located in recent drought cycles. In fact, a first century Galilean fishing boat was recently unearthed from the mud and preserved. Although we have no idea who the boat belonged to, it matches the biblical record for the vessels used by Christ’s disciples. Capernaum, a town often visited by Jesus, is widely excavated and protected. Specific sites of interest include the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus cured a man with an unclean spirit and delivered the sermon on the bread of life, and the house of Peter where Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law and others. Other archaeological sites involved in Christ’s ministry include Kursi (the swine miracle), Tabgha (loaves and fishes), the Mount of Beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount), Caesarea Philippi (Peter's confession), and Jacob's well where Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman. In Jerusalem, we still see the foundations for the Jewish Temple Mount built by Herod the Great. Other remarkable sites in Jerusalem include the "Southern Steps" where Jesus and his followers entered the Temple, the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed a crippled man, and the recently uncovered Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed a blind man.
Evidence for Jesus – His Last Days and CrucifixionThe evidence for Jesus in the events leading to his crucifixion starts across the
Kidron Valley from Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives. There, we can walk through ancient olive trees to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before his capture. Then, we can look back across the Kidron Valley to the Golden Gate where Christ entered Jerusalem for his trial, scourging and death. Elsewhere, we find more evidence for Jesus and the leaders presiding over his trial and crucifixion, including an inscription that mentions the Roman procurator of the time, Pontius Pilate, and the actual bones of the Jewish High Priest of the time, Caiaphas, preserved in an ornate ossuary (bone box). The evidence continues throughout Jerusalem where we can stand in the judgment place of Pontius Pilate called Gabbatha, and then walk the Via Dolorosa where Christ carried his own cross to Calvary. The huge Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered by most scholars to be a reliable historical site covering the locations of the crucifixion and burial of Christ. Incredibly, a 2,000-year-old heel bone pierced by an iron nail was recently discovered in a Jerusalem graveyard that sheds more light on the practice of crucifixion by the first century Romans.
Evidence for Jesus – What About His Resurrection?The evidence for Jesus in ancient sites and artifacts culminates with an empty tomb just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Although we don’t know the exact location for the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, the traditional site known as the Garden Tomb provides a wonderful image. Later, on the Road to Emmaus, we picture the risen Christ walking with two deflated and dejected men who lost their leader – the hoped-for Messiah – just a few days earlier. What event could cause a handful of scared and hiding peasants to light up the ancient world with the bold proclamation of Jesus Christ? Nothing short of Christ’s resurrection could have transformed these people – the evidence for Jesus after his death and resurrection is staggering!

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