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Crucified, Dead, Alive or Neither? By Jonathan Brackens

Are you wondering how to respond to scholars and skeptics who doubt the historical evidence of Jesus and highlight the Gospels’ inconsistencies about Jesus’ crucifixion as evidence against it? The response is simple: concede, confess, then concentrate on the material facts. Your game plan is to concede—a little—by (1) confessing to discrepancies, (2) highlighting that prior to any scholar’s work, the Gospels already alerted the world to factual discrepancies surrounding Jesus’ death, thus scholars highlighted discrepancies brings us no further from the reality the Gospels provide, and, finally, (4) “hang” your argument on the material facts. The material facts are neither whether he died upon or on his way to the cross, nor at what hour, but that he died and if he died that means he must have lived.


Concede:

Use the evidence submitted against Jesus to your advantage by conceding to its probative value, in this case, the Sanhedrin’s in-court statements. Mark 14:53-65 details the Sanhedrin’s trial of Jesus, wherein they reviewed evidence and testimony against Jesus to determine whether he merited death; they concluded that he did. Halakah, Jewish Law, memorializes this event within the Talmud Sanhedrin 43a:

On Passover Eve they hung the corpse of Jesus the Nazarene after they killed him by way of stoning. And a crier went out before him for forty days, publicly proclaiming: Jesus the Nazarene is going out to be stoned because he practiced sorcery, incited people to idol worship, and led the Jewish people astray. Anyone who knows of a reason to acquit him should come forward and teach it on his behalf. And the court did not find a reason to acquit him, and so they stoned him and hung his corpse on Passover eve. (1)

Like John 19:14-16 says, Sanhedrin 43a states that they “hung his corpse on Passover eve”—harmony. Next, consider the purpose of this in-court statement: this was written by those who wanted Jesus dead because of the harm Jesus did to the Jewish community, thus, they get no merit for lying about Jesus’ existence and their trial proceedings. So, concede that the specific facts regarding Jesus’ hanging are under dispute and will likely never be resolved (i.e., did he die prior to or upon the cross). However, the material fact, here, is that if the Jewish Oral Torah (Talmud) and Sanhedrin are trustworthy, then Jesus died, and if Jesus died that means he must have lived.


Confess & Concentrate:

Don’t run from but run into the discrepancies. The discrepancies are: first, that Simon, a Cyrenian helped Jesus bear his cross (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26) versus John who states that Jesus bore his cross (John 19:16-17). The accounts differ but what is material is that Jesus died, not whether he bore the cross 100 percent of the way. Next, each gospel records at least 53 percent of what John wrote regarding the sign above Jesus’ head: “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Matthew 27:37) at 89 percent, “THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Mark, 15:26) at 53 percent, and “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Luke 23:38) at 74 percent, where John states “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19). The accounts differ but what is material is that Jesus died, not whether the sign on the cross said “Jesus” or “of Nazareth.” Even if the sign is significant, all accounts agree that it said, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Finally, Mark and John propose different time periods of crucifixion: the third, Mark 15:25, and the sixth hour, John 19:14. Again, what is material is not the hour of crucifixion, but that Jesus died. Jesus did not say: that he would be crucified at the third or sixth hour, they would place a sign over his head, that he would die on or before they placed him on the cross, or whether he would carry his cross 100 percent up Golgotha. At most Jesus said that they would crucify him, at least, that they would do many things to him and that he would die (Matthew 16:21–28, 20:17–19, 26:1–2; Mark 8:31-33, 9:30-32, 10:32-34; Luke 9:22–27). Remember, what is material is that if Jesus died that means he must have lived.


What Can We Conclude From Historic Documents?

To make much of immaterial details that bring us no further away from what the Gospels state is an attempt to kill the Gospels by “a thousand paper cuts,” yet, historical evidence suggests that (1) there was a man named “Jesus”, (2) writers suggest this man did supernatural things, (3) his actions led to his capital punishment wherein his body was displayed on a cross, and (4) many reported seeing him no sooner than three days after his reported death (See also Tacitus, Annals 15.44; Lucian, The Death Of Peregrine 11-13; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a; Interpolation: The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3 From The Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston, Hendrickson Publishers, 1987; Matthew 28:9-10, Luke 24:13-43, John 20:19-31).


Wrapping Up:

  1. Concede, Confess, Then Concentrate On The Material Facts

  2. If He Died, He Must Have Lived

  3. You Have What Is Necessary To Logically Believe In Jesus

  4. Bonus, Take it in stride (Luke 16:31 NRSV)

Sources quoted:
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