Sunday, December 28, 2008

On the Third Day of Meier...

On the third day of Meier, his Marginal Jew brought to me, 3) Tacitus and other Jewish sources; 2) Josephus and the books of the canon; and 1) and an introduction to the historical Jesus.

Chapter 4 divides into two parts. The first deals with a reference in the Roman historian Tacitus to Christ in his discussion of the fire of Rome. Tacitus wrote his Annals near the end of his life (he died in AD118). Unfortunately, the part of the Annals dealing with AD29-31 are missing, and Jesus likely died in AD30 (according to Meier). But Tacitus does mention Christians in his discussion of Nero's blaming of Christians for the fire (AD64).

Here is the excerpt Meier mentions: "Therefore, to squelch the rumor, Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people called 'Christians,' [a group] hated for their abominable crimes. There name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suppressed for the moment, the deadly superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the land which originated this evil, but also in the city of Rome, where all sorts of horrendous and shameful practices from every part of the world converge and are fervently cultivated."

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit that Meier extracts from this excerpt is that the Christian movement was already in existence before Christ's execution. He argues that Tacitus is probably only passing on common knowledge. He gets Pilate's position wrong (he was a prefect rather than procurator) so isn't using official Roman sources.

Similarly, the early second century reference to Christians in Pliny the Younger and in the satire The Passing of Peregrinus by Lucian of Samosata add nothing new to our knowledge and are not independent sources. We learn from them what an educated pagan of the second century might know about Jesus (92).

Meier concludes similarly of rabbinic sources: "this vast literature contains no independent reference to or information about Jesus of Nazareth" (93). He agrees with Joseph Klausner that the very few references to Jesus in the Talmud (400s) are of little historical worth (95) and with Johann Maier about pre-Talmudic material that there is no authentic mention of Jesus in the Mishna. In short, "in the earliest rabbinic sources, there is no clear or even probable reference to Jesus of Nazareth (98).

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