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CHAPTER TWO

WE ARE WITNESSES

We have several writings in the New Testament which claim to be written by eyewitness for the events of Christ. They claim large number of witnesses

Some people who claim that Jesus is a myth deny the authorship and integrity of the writings.  One example is as follows:

"What, then, is the evidence that Jesus Christ lived in this world as a man? The authorities relied upon to prove the reality of Christ are the four Gospels of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These Gospels and these alone, tell the story of his life. Now we know absolutely nothing of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, apart from what is said of them in the Gospels. Moreover, the Gospels themselves do not claim to have been written by these men. They are not called "The Gospel of Matthew," or "The Gospel of Mark," but "The Gospel According to Matthew," "The Gospel According to Mark," "The Gospel According to Luke," and "The Gospel According to John." No human being knows who wrote a single line in one of these Gospels."

This immediately brought me the problem of my grand father.  I am told his name was Mammen. I was told that he was an eminent Pepper and Spice merchant of the Malabar Coast.  I wanted to see whether he really existed or not.  Unfortunately he has not left any written document.  There are no government records of his name.  He is said to have died when my father was five according to my grandmother.  My grandmother died at the age of 98 over fifty years ago.  I am sure she has seen him.  But there is no evidence other than what she says.  Any family record we now posses are all written within the past fifty years.  No one who wrote that knows him.  Actually no one knows who wrote a single line in any of the page.  I have a copy of the family history.  But it has no author's name.  I suppose this grandfather of mine is a myth. You can see how absurd this conclusion is.  In fact you cannot prove the existence of me even.  None of you have seen or known me.  You cannot be sure I wrote this.  I could as well be a myth. Our knowledge of the external world comes through our five senses.  Then any information we get through them has to be through the means of these senses and that means through a medium.  We can always question these media of senses, the integrity of these transmissions and also the interpretation of these senses to us.  Then all the problem of evidence of any "reality" will be under question. 

So what we are going to do is to look into these evidences and present them.   The conclusion that you may make from these evidences ultimately depends on you.  But just as my existence - if I really exist - positively indicate that my grandfather existed you can extrapolate back to the answer whether Jesus walked on the earth.

Oral Tradition 

Most Christian scholarship indeed believes that the gospels were written down within the four decades of the resurrection of Jesus.  The need for writing down became a necessity as those who were eye witnesses were slowly dying out.  Hence the necessity of writing down for posterity.  It is clearly expressed in the preface of the gospel of Luke. (Or whoever wrote that Gospel)

This is what Luke, writing anywhere from 50 to 90 A.D., says:

"Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed." (Luke 1:1-4)

Handed down from whom?

Here are the statements of those who had been with Jesus:

Act_2:32 This Jesus has God raised up, whereof all *we* are witnesses.

Act_3:15  but the originator of life ye slew, whom God raised from among the dead, whereof *we* are witnesses.

Act_5:32  And *we* are his witnesses of these things, and the Holy Spirit also, which God has given to those that obey him.

Act_10:39  *We* also are witnesses of all things which he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem; whom they also slew, having hanged him on a cross.

1Co_15:15  And we are found also false witnesses of God; for we have witnessed concerning God that he raised the Christ, whom he has not raised if indeed those that are dead are not raised.

Luke refers to two different kinds of source materials.

First there were oral traditions  handed down by those who were eye witnesses to the events, as is clear from this part:  “just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word”.  In the ancient world, passing information by word of mouth was taken seriously. Memorization was a major means of education.   An education that included reading and writing was only available to the wealthy minority since the codices and parchments were expensive they were not available to the majority of the people of the ancient world.  There were people who could recite the whole of the Bible from memory.  In my stay with Sudan Interior Mission I once met a blind Sudanese Christian who could quote the right verse with reference all from sheer memory.  I was told that not only he could recite the whole bible, but could bring up any verse with reference to book, chapter and verse.  My own grandmother was blind for over twenty years.  She could recite any Psalm from memory which was her anchor all those years of her blindness.  She would listen to our reading the bible and quote it almost instantly.   In a world where few people could read or write, techniques of memorization were the major means of transmission of information.

The teachers even used special techniques to help their hearers memorize what they said. One popular means of ensuring accuracy in the passing on of information was to formalize it into creeds and songs. This is one of the reasons of building the Creeds of Christendom in order to define and anchor faith.   Moses taught the Jews their history in songs because that was the easiest way to memorize. Oral history is the recording of personal memories and histories of those who experienced historical eras or events.

Deu 31:22  Moses therefore wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel.  

So it would not be a surprise that the basic acts and history of Jesus along with his teachings were written down and transmitted in memorized form among the early followers of Christ, immediately after resurrection or even earlier during Jesus' life.  We know that the apostles' claim that Jesus rose from the dead was put into creeds and songs almost immediately after Jesus' death, even before any of the gospels were written.

This mode of transmission is common in all cultures.  Oral tradition and oral lore is cultural material and tradition transmitted orally from one generation to another.  The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants. In this way, it is possible for a society to transmit oral history, oral literature, oral law and other knowledge across generations without a writing system. 

·          So what is written down in the gospels was taken from the oral traditions handed down from the eyewitnesses. 

 

 

Kerala Syrian Christian oral tradition through
Margam Kali (dance of the people of the way) and Villu  Paattu(Bow song) - a dance form

Second, there were already a large number of scattered writings:   There is no doubt some of these were also written down not as a continuous story but as short anecdotes and pithy saying of the Master.  The practice of keeping records of rabbinical teachings was a normal practice of the period. This is what usually termed as the Q hypotheses. Then also “Many have undertaken to set down an orderly account”.   Some followers were in fact writing the story in an orderly way.  The gospels were an attempt to collect these and codify them to give a full picture of Jesus.  The gospel writers were themselves either eye witnesses or historians who did their research by collecting these materials and interviewing the eyewitnesses as in the case of Dr. Luke.

       

Date of Birth of Jesus

In an earlier booklet "When was Jesus Born?" I have discussed how we can ascertain the date of birth of Jesus purely from the data from the gospels.  If we take the given data from the gospels, we can determine the date of birth positively as the 25th of December or around that date depending on the calendar adjustments. Those Sceptics who claim that it was fixed by borrowing the festival of pagan gods will be surprised.   https://www.createspace.com/3571086

This calculation based on the only possible time when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies

Thus we are told that Zachariah’s vision took place at the time of the Day of Atonement. This is the only possible date in the year since the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies only during the Day of Atonement. But he could not leave the temple until the end of the Festival. The Feast of the Sucoth which followed immediately lasted until 21st of Tishri.  

Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist AFTER Zechariah had finished his Temple service:

Luke 1:23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion

Luke 1:26-33   On the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, To a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings… You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.

 

Assuming the year 7 BC as the appearance of the Angel to Zachariah in the Holy of Holies it works as follows


10 Tishri: The Day of Atonement  - Zachariah’s Vision
Week 29:15-21 Succoth 
Succoth (22nd – Feast of Conclusion :The Great Day)
Zachariah Gets Off Duty
8 days – Zachariah gets back home and
Elizabeth become pregnant with John the Baptist

Sixth month of Elizabeth’s Pregnancy.            
Mary conceives sometime here
Tevet 14 completes 280 days.
Jesus was certainly born sometime in this month
If we extrapolate the Gregorian Calendar the Hebrew month of Tevet falls in the months of December/January whatever the year of Jesus’ birth was.

There is always a possibility of error due to possible insertion of a 13th month of variable days as Adar II called intercalary month to correct the sidereal change to accommodate season. Along with that, we have some uncertainty due to the uncertainty of the sixth month of pregnancy of Elizabeth.  This will introduce a difference of up to 15 days either way.  This is exactly what we see here. 

The date of birth we estimated was
14 Tevet.  

Tevet 14 (+/-) 15 is between Tevet 29 and 1
which is equivalent to between 15th of December and January 15th

This allows for extreme uncertainties in the pregnancy of Elizabeth and of Mary.

Christmas in fact was celebrated on January 7 for many Orthodox churches, January 6 for the Armenian Apostolic Church and January 19 for the Armenians of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  It is certain that our range of the period during which Jesus was born is the only reasonable conclusion.  This alone will explain why Luke started his narrative with the vision of Zachariah.

Thus
25th December as the
Christmas day
is most probably the right date

When was Jesus Born?

For our analysis this date is unimportant. 

Determination of the year of Birth of Jesus

The determination of the year of birth is a little more difficult because it is tied up with the date of death of King Herod.   Again we have to fall back on the historian Luke who mentions other reference points.  The birth of Jesus took place before the death of Herod.  But we have several possible dates of death of Herod are proposed based on the Josephus statements.  Until recently it was suggested that Herod died in 4 BC.  In that case the birth might have been anytime before that.   This is why I have taken 6 BC as the year of birth of Christ and it exactly falls on the 25th December. 

The latest proposal is that Herod died in 1 BC.  (That certainly does not mean Herod did not exist.)(http://home.comcast.net/~murrellg/Herod.htm   The Date of Herod's Death:  The Errors Corrected by Murrell Selden 11/15/95  (Revised 12/22/2011))

For the beginning of the Public Ministry of Jesus we have the following statement regarding the beginning of the Public Ministry of John who was only 6 months older than Jesus.  They both must have been about 30 years of age when they started their ministry.

 Luk 3:1-2  Now in the fifteenth year of the government of Tiberius Caesar,
Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and
Herod tetrarch of Galilee, and
Philip his brother tetrarch of Ituraea and the region of Trachonitis, and
Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,
in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came upon John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

·         Tiberius Caesar succeeded Augustus Caesar on the 19th of August 14 AD.

·         Pontus Pilate was appointed governor of Judea from 26-36 AD.

·         Herod Antipas was tetrarch of the Galilee from 4BC/1 BC to 39 AD.

·         Philip Herod was tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis from c. 4BC/1 BC-34 AD.

·         Annas was High Priest from 6 AD-15 AD and his son-in-law, Caiaphas, was High Priest from 18 AD-36 AD, but Annas still wielded the power (John 18:12-13).

Hence we could safely estimate the date of starting of the Ministry of Jesus as around 27-30 AD

Diverse approaches have been used to estimate the date of the crucifixion of Jesus.

·         One approach uses the attestations of non-Christian sources such as Josephus and Tacitus.  

·         Another method works backwards from the historically well established trial of Apostle Paul in Achaea to estimate the date of his conversion.

·          Two independent astronomical methods have also been used, suggesting the same date, i.e. Friday, April 3, 33 AD.

The crucifixion according to the gospel was within 2 - 4 years of this ministry.  Thus it must have been within 30-36 AD

This will place the life of Jesus in the first half of the first century. 
 Evidently the eyewitnesses also must have lived during this period.