by Craig A. Evans-

Seventy-five years ago Rudolf Bultmann remarked that “we can know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary; and other sources about Jesus do not exist.”1 To be sure, Bultmann’s skeptical stance provoked reactions, but in some of the most influential circles his position became more or less axiomatic until the uprising in 1953 among his own pupils.2 But when understood in context, Bultmann’s statement is not nearly as radical as it seemed at first glance.

Bultmann was responding to the excessively subjective and often romantic “lives of Jesus,” in which, with great imagination, portraits of Jesus were presented that had little contact with the sources and almost no critical orientation. The psychology and personality of Jesus were analyzed; Jesus’ tastes and habits probed; and, above all, the evolution of this thought and self-understanding was traced. A plethora of books appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century, foisting such ahistorical (or suprahistorical) constructs of Jesus upon an uncritical church and public. Bultmann rightly recognized that these lives of Jesus had no credibility. At the turn of the century, Albert Schweitzer remarked that these portraits of Jesus reflected more the values and beliefs of the scholars than they did those of Jesus.3

But Bultmann was also reacting to the negative results of form criticism, whose principles and conclusions had begun to be applied to the New Testament Gospels shortly before he published his book on Jesus. In 1919, two critical works appeared, which concluded that the Gospels were made up of distinct units of tradition, whose origin more often than not reached back to the church and not to Jesus, and whose order and sequence did not reflect memory of events, but were the work of the evangelists.4 Two years later, Bultmann himself published his monumental work on the history and development of the Synoptic tradition.5

Thus when interpreted in context, Bultmann’s statement is not particularly radical. When he speaks of “the life and personality of Jesus” (vom Leben und von der Persönlichkeit Jesu), he has in mind primarily the psychological interpretations, whereby it was thought that the mind of Jesus, from boyhood to manhood, could be studied. No, Bultmann rightly averred, the sources simply do not permit such analysis. They do not provide the requisite details, nor do they provide enough chronological data to make it possible to reconstruct the development of Jesus’ thinking.

As warranted as Bultmann’s skepticism was with respect to the question of Jesus’ personality, it was not with respect to Jesus’ public life and teaching. The uprising among his own students was primarily motivated by theological and apologetical concerns, with the result that the gains of their work have been limited to a particular time and a particular agenda. As dissatisfied with his theology as many of his students were, most took for granted Bultmann’s skeptical assessment of the Gospels. But in the last quarter of a century, a host of scholars representing a broad spectrum of interests and confessions (and lack thereof) have called into question the general skepticism with which the Gospels as sources have been held. Added to this has been growing criticism of Bultmann and his students for ignoring the land of Israel itself and the realia that have come to light thanks to a century of archaeology and geographical study. This neglect only compounded an unfortunate tendency to minimize the Judaic character of Jesus and his first followers.6

But the so-called Third Quest of the historical Jesus has changed this picture dramatically. One of the most significant and influential books to appear in the 1980s, the decade in which the Third Quest blossomed and was recognized as yet another phase in the two-centuries old critical study of Jesus,7 was E. P. Sanders’s Jesus and Judaism. At the outset of his study, Sanders identifies what he regards as the “almost indisputable facts” of the life and teaching of Jesus. They are as follows:

1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed.
3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of there being twelve.
4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel.
5. Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple.
6. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by the Roman authorities.
7. After his death, Jesus’ followers continued as an identifiable movement.
8. At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement (Gal 1:13, 22; Phil 3:6), and it appears that this persecution endured at least to a time near the end of Paul’s career (2 Cor 11:24; Gal 5:11; 6:12; cf. Matt 23:34; 10:17).8

To these facts, one can add a few more complementary details. I think that it is highly probable that Jesus was viewed by the public as a prophet, that his followers came to regard him as Israel’s Messiah, that he spoke often of the kingdom of God, that his temple controversy involved criticism of the ruling priests, and that the Romans crucified him as “king of the Jews.” Very importantly, his followers continued as an identifiable movement because they were convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead and had in fact appeared too many.

In what follows, I would like to review the first six of these “facts,” supplementing them along the way with supporting literary (often from sources outside the New Testament) and archaeological data. I shall also comment on the significance of the respective facts and what they tell us about the aims of Jesus. I believe that from this aggregate we shall learn what we can know of the historical Jesus.

My review of this material is brief and mostly summarizing. I shall state what I think is highly probable and then mention a few related items that are also probable but usually not to the same degree. As by now should be obvious, the approach taken here is historical. I am exploring what can be known of the historical Jesus by recognized historical means, not by what perhaps can be “known” subjectively (through revelation, mystical insight, or theological dogma). I am not suggesting that things cannot be known about Jesus through means and media other than historical data; I am only making the modest goals of the present essay clear. Obviously, some will differ with my assessment of what is historical and what is not, or to what degree a source is historical (questions encountered in the use of the Gospel of John or the paragraph pertaining to Jesus in Josephus, Antiquities) or independent and therefore capable of supplementing our data (questions encountered in the use of the Gospel of Thomas or Egerton Papyrus).9

Jesus Was Baptized by John the Baptist

Scholars regard the story of John’s baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11) as almost certain for two major reasons: It is hard to explain why early Christians would invent a story, (1) in which their Master submits to the authority of someone else (someone, no less, whose following competes with the early Christian movement), and (2) in which their Master submits to a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). What is invoked here is sometimes called the criterion of embarrassment. That is, it is not likely early Christians would invent and then retain a story that causes so much awkwardness.

It is clear that early Christians were uneasy with Jesus’ baptism. To bring the baptism into alignment with emerging christology, John is carefully presented in the Gospels and Acts as the Lord’s Forerunner. In effect, John provides Jesus with an introduction. Once introduced, Jesus takes the stage and never gives up the spotlight. One can discern further nuancing among the Gospels themselves. In Mark’s Gospel, John foretells the coming of one who is “mightier” (Mark 1:7). Jesus then appears and is baptized (Mark 1:9). For Mark this is sufficient. Not so for Matthew, who tells us that John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized, insisting that Jesus baptize him (Matt 3:14-15). Luke takes a different tack, creating the impression in his narrative that Jesus was baptized after John had been imprisoned and so presumably was not baptized by John. The Gospel of John takes this a step further, omitting all reference to Jesus’ baptism. Instead, when he sees Jesus approach, the Baptist identifies Jesus as the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29-31). Indeed, the Johannine evangelist will later state that Jesus and his disciples baptized more disciples than John did (John 3:22; 4:1-2). Similar tendencies are seen in the apocryphal Gospels (e.g., Gos. Heb. §2; Gos. Naz. §2; Gos. Ebi. §4).

If in light of these arguments it is acknowledged that it is virtually certain that John baptized Jesus, what is gained? We assume that Jesus must have been sympathetic to John’s vision and ministry. Therefore, the better we understand the meaning of John’s preaching and activities, the better we shall understand Jesus. There are at least three data that may shed significant light on the Baptist’s context and antecedents of Jesus’ ministry. All three of these data point to restoration themes.

First, John’s appearance in the region of the Jordan River immediately calls to mind Joshua’s crossing in preparation for the conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua 4). Joshua typology may also provide clarification for John’s reference to “these stones,” from which God is able to raise up children for Abraham (Matt 3:9 = Luke 3:8). Evidently, John, like Joshua before him, erected a memorial of twelve stones at the Jordan, to remind Israel of the covenant God made with the twelve tribes of Israel. A similar Joshua typology doubtlessly motivated one Theudas, some two decades later, who summoned people to take up their possessions and gather at the Jordan, whose waters were to be miraculously divided (Josephus, Ant. 20.5.1 §97-98). Conquest typology probably also lies behind the actions of the Jewish man from Egypt who promised the faithful who gathered to him on the Mount of Olives that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would collapse (Josephus, J.W. 2.13.5 §261-263; Ant.20.8.6 §169-170). Others, too, we are told, promised signs and salvation in the wilderness. Thus, John’s activity at the Jordan River would have been interpreted, more than likely, in terms of a Joshua typology that anticipated a new conquest of the Promised Land.10

Secondly, the association of John with prophetic texts like Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 strongly suggests restoration hopes, in which John is the “messenger” who goes before and prepares “the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:2-3 and parallels). But even John’s criticism of Herod’s divorce and remarriage, itself probably inspired by Malachi 2:16, was fundamental to his vision of restoration. For Israel could not expect to be restored when the nation’s leadership acted in a manner contrary to God’s will (cf. 11QT 56:18-19; CD 4:20–5:2). That John’s criticism of the tetrarch’s behavior was more than merely tangential, but was vitally concerned with restoration hopes, is attested indirectly in Josephus. For surely it was not John’s eloquence that motivated Antipas to do away with the Baptist, nor, for that matter, criticism of his matrimonial misadventures. What prompted Antipas to take action, in all probability, was that John’s criticism of the tetrarch was part of his larger vision of national restoration, a restoration in which the son of Herod would take no part.

Thirdly, John’s baptizing activity was not limited to the Jordan River and probably was not limited to repentance, but was probably part of a larger program that called for the purification of the nation, in preparation for the coming visitation. But John as purifier does not stand in tension with John as restoration prophet. The two go hand in hand, for the purity of Israel was understood to be an essential element in the restoration of Israel.11 Again, Josephus provides important clarification. Josephus mentions the widespread opinion that Herod’s military disaster at the hands of the Nabateans was the result of divine judgment for putting to death John. Josephus then explains to his readers who this John was: “For Herod had executed him, though he was a good man and had urged the Jews— if inclined to exercise virtue, to practice justice toward one another and piety toward God—to join in baptism. For baptizing was acceptable to him (God), not for pardon of whatever sins they may have committed, but in purifying the body, as though the soul had beforehand been cleansed in righteousness” (cf. Ant. 18.5.2 §116-19).12 What kind of teaching regarding purification would have prompted Herod to execute John the Baptist? The kind that prepares the people of Israel for coming judgment and restoration.

If this is the essence of what we know of John, how does it help us understand Jesus better? Let’s follow the sequence of three data that have just been outlined. First, there are at least two specific points of coherence between John and Jesus with respect to the Joshua typology: (1) Jesus’ appointment of “twelve” with John’s “these stones.” This feature will be treated under a separate heading below. (2) The “sign” requested of Jesus (Mark 8:11-12) should probably be understood in the light of the conquest signs proffered by Theudas, the Egyptian Jew, and others. The fact that this request was made, whatever its motives, suggests that Jesus’ message and activities were viewed as in some sense in continuity with the message and activities of John and others, whose vision of Israel’s restoration was shaped by conquest typologies.

Secondly, Jesus’ interpretation and use of the prophetic tradition is consistent with John’s. Jesus’ proclamation of the “good news” is indebted significantly to the proclamation of the good news (basar / euaggelizesthai) in various passages in Isaiah (cf. Isa 40:9; 52:7; 61:1-2). Just as John called on Israel to repent and purify themselves for the Lord (Isa 40:3), so Jesus calls on the nation to believe in the good news of God’s reign (Isa 40:9). There are other points of contact between Jesus and John that suggest a shared understanding of the prophetic scriptures. Both suggest a shared understanding of the prophetic scriptures. Both 12). In fact, Jesus’ private explanation to his disciples, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (vv. 11-12), undoubtedly reflects the very view of John and alludes to the recent scandal involving Herod Antipas, who dismissed his wife, in order to marry his sister-in-law Herodias, who had divorced Herod Philip. It is not surprising that Herod Antipas took a malevolent interest in Jesus also (cf. Luke 13:31-33; 23:6-11).

Thirdly, just as John promoted purity (as is plain in Josephus and implied in John), so also did Jesus, and in what appears to be a similar way. If we accept what Josephus says about John, the Baptist administered a baptism that purified the body, on the assumption that the soul had already been cleansed in righteousness. This is remarkably consistent with Jesus’ teaching in Mark 7 that unwashed hands do not defile, but “what comes out of a person is what defiles him,” that is, all evil that springs from the human heart (vv. 20-23). This is an essential part of the backdrop in the controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees over association with sinners. Because these people do not hold to the oral Torah, and often not to the written Torah itself, in matters of purity, Pharisees assumed that Jesus should not and would not eat with him. But Jesus’ understanding of what really defiles differs from Pharisaic understanding. And finally, continuity with John’s thought appears in the context of Jesus’ teaching and activities in the temple precincts. When asked by what authority he does what he does, Jesus appeals to the authority of John and whether the ruling priests acknowledged it (Mark 11:27-33). Jesus’ appeal to John implies that the Baptist was well known and highly regarded, even in Jerusalem. And furthermore, comparison of himself with John testifies to Jesus’ own sense of continuity with the ministry and message of the Baptist.

Jesus was a Galilean Who Preached and Healed

One of the fixed data of the historical Jesus was that he was from Galilee and was known as “Jesus of Nazareth” (cf. Matt 21:11; Mark 1:24; John 1:45; Acts 2:22; b. Sanh. 107b: “Jesus the Nazarene”). He was widely known as a preacher and as a healer (cf. Mark 6:2: “What mighty works are worked by his hands!”; Ant. 18.3.3 §63: “there appeared Jesus . . . a doer of amazing deeds”), even if the source of his healing power was sometimes called into question (cf. Mark 3:22 and parallels; b. Sanh. 43a: “Jesus practiced magic and led Israel astray”; Contra Celsum 1.6).

As a healer from Galilee, it is helpful to compare Jesus to Honi the Circle Drawer (died mid-first century BC) and Hanina ben Dosa (younger contemporary of Jesus). Some of the miracles that are remembered to have occurred in response to their prayers are similar to those performed by Jesus.13 The most notable difference, however, is that Jesus never prays or petitions God for help; nor does Jesus rely on formulas and oaths thought to have been handed down by Solomon or other ancient worthies. He simply speaks the word and the healing or exorcism takes place. These comparisons probably clarify the import of Jesus’ reputation as one having authority unlike that of the scribes (Mark 1:22-28).

Jesus as healer and exorcist also puts into perspective his proclamation of the reign of God. If the reign of God was truly at hand, then there should be evidence of the demise of the reign of Satan (cf. T. Moses 10:1: “And then his [God’s] kingdom shall appear throughout all his creation, and then Satan will have an end”; Mark 3:26: “If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end”). Jesus declared, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18; cf. T. Sol. 20:16-17 “we who are demons . . . are falling from heaven . . . like flashes of lightning”), and proves the presence of the reign of God by appeal to his exorcisms: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom [or reign] of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

Proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing and exorcizing, and appealing to the fulfillment of Scripture, including his evident application of Isaiah 61:1-2 to himself, led to Jesus’ recognition as a prophet (cf. Matt 11:5 = Luke 7:22; Luke 4:18-21). Besides this cumulative evidence we have an utterance of Jesus that strongly resists any claim of origin in the early church: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4 and parallels).

It is in this context that Jesus’ refusal to offer a “sign” is so striking. We are told that Jews require signs (cf. 1 Cor 1:22) and the major prophets of old offered them (cf. Isa 7:11, 14; Jer 44:29; Ezek 4:3). But contrary to religious conventions and contemporary examples, Jesus refused to offer a sign. Here we may invoke the criterion of dissimilarity, for Jesus’ refusal stands in tension not only with the Jewish custom of his day, but also with subsequent Christian practice. This is no Christian motif; it is a surprising and distinctive element. But it is not that Jesus simply refuses to offer a sign. In a sense, his miracles are signs of the powerful presence of God (and they are presented this way systematically in the fourth Gospel). It is that Jesus will offer no reassuring sign of coming redemption, a new conquest of the Promised Land, at least not for his critics. No, Jesus promises the doubters that the only sign that will be given them—“this generation”—will be the sign of Jonah. Though the meaning of this sign is much debated (does it refer to Jonah’s miraculous preservation in the fish, or his witness to the frightened seamen?), it seems best to understand it simply as in reference to the prophet’s message of Ninevah’s judgment.14 Jesus has the same message for those who have failed to repent and heed his message (cf. Matt 11:21 = Luke 10:13).

The refusal to offer a sign of conquest, along the lines of the signs that several other would-be prophets proffered a beleaguered Israel, and the warnings against Jerusalem, various cities of Galilee, and the temple complex qualify Jesus’ proclamation of good news. Good news and bad news are thus juxtaposed.

Finally, a word needs to be said about Galilee itself. After all, Jesus was a preacher and healer from Galilee. What does that tell us? Not too many years ago, scholars were fascinated with archaeological findings that attested widespread presence of Greek language and Greco-Roman architecture in Galilee. Excavations at Sepphoris were of special interest. From this, it was inferred by some that perhaps Jesus had grown up in a hellenistic setting that was only superficially Jewish. A few scholars have even suggested that Jesus was a Cynic philosopher of sorts.15

However, the Cynic hypothesis has been severely criticized. Not only is there no evidence of a Cynic presence in Galilee in the first part of the first century, the archaeology of Galilee, including Sepphoris, shows that the Jewish people resisted Greco-Roman culture and maintained a strong, Torah-observant lifestyle.16 The basis for the hypothesis of Jesus as Cynic has collapsed.

Jesus Called Disciples and Spoke of There Being Twelve

Jesus’ appointment of “twelve” apostles coheres with Joshua’s monument of twelve stones, a monument which John may have erected at the Jordan River and to which he probably referred when he spoke of “these stones.” As such, the appointment of the twelve is consistent with restoration hopes.17 As it turns out, the concept of twelve men, raised up in the eschatological time, is attested in Jewish literature, especially in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls clarify the judgmental function of the eschatological twelve, who support the awaited figure expected to arise at the end time (e.g., 1QM 2:1-3; 4Q164 4-6; 11Q19 57:11-14: “And twelve princes of his [the eschatological king’s] people shall be with him. . .who shall sit together with him for judgment and for the law”). We have here remarkable coherence with a saying of Jesus that circulated in source material common to Matthew and Luke (the so-called Q source): “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28 = Luke 22:28-30). Jesus’ saying is crafted from Daniel 7, which speaks of “thrones,” “judgment,” and the “son of man” (cf. vv. 9 and 13) and Psalm 122, which speaks of “tribes,” “thrones,” “judgment” (cf. vv. 4-5). In fact, these “thrones of judgment” are further qualified as the “thrones of the house of David” (v. 5).

In what sense were the Twelve expected to “judge” the twelve tribes of Israel? Probably in the sense of the judges in the book of Judges, who administered and protected the tribes of Israel. This apostolic responsibility commenced with the commission to preach, heal, and cast out demons (Mark 3:13-19; 6:7-13). As in the case of Jesus, so in the case of the disciples we find proclamation of the kingdom linked to exorcism.

But there is a darker side to the community of faith that Jesus called into being. There is no indication that Jesus’ family numbered among his disciples during his public ministry. Indeed, the evidence seems to suggest that they may have opposed him (e.g., Mark 3:21 “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is beside himself;’” 3:33-34 “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’”; 6:3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”). It is only later, probably after the resurrection, that at least one brother—James—became a follower of Jesus.18

Jesus Confined His Activity to Israel

By the time the Gospels were published, Christianity had moved well beyond the borders of Israel. Nevertheless, the Gospels faithfully narrate a ministry limited to Israel. Apart from a few Gentiles within the land of Israel itself, such as the centurion (Matt 8:5-13 and parallel) or the demonized man from the district of Gerasa (Mark 5:1-20), Jesus’ only encounter with a Gentile, near the border of Israel, is his encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). When this woman requests help for her demonized daughter, Jesus replies, “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v. 27). This reply, along with the woman’s successful counter (“Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs!”), guarantees the authenticity of this tradition. No Greek-speaking, gentilizing church would invent a story such as this. From this, we rightly infer that Jesus understood his ministry, first and foremost, as a ministry to the lost of Israel.

Accordingly, the beginnings of Christology wholly reflect a setting in the land of Israel. Jesus is hailed as “son of David” (Mark 10:47, 48), as “Messiah” (Mark 8:29), and even as “Son (of God)” (Mark 1:11; 3:11; 9:7). All of these epithets are at home in first-century Israel and anchor the origins of Christology firmly in Jewish soil.19 And of course, Jesus’ preferred self-reference, the curious epithet “son of man,” is an instance of Aramaic idiom and when used with the definite article (as it always is on the lips of Jesus) almost always alludes to the son of man figure in the vision of Daniel 7. When Christian proclamation moved beyond the boundaries of Israel and the Jewish world, the idiom “son of man” was dropped, but the other epithets were retained and given prominence.
Jesus Engaged in a Controversy About the Temple

Jesus’ action in the temple precincts (Mark 11:15-18) has been much discussed in recent scholarship, thanks in large part to the interpretive significance and importance it was given by Sanders.20 While the precise significance of the demonstration continues to be discussed, almost everyone agrees that at its heart lay a challenge to priestly authority and polity which almost certainly prompted the authorities to act against Jesus.21

The demonstration in the temple precincts resulted in Jesus’ arrest and interrogation by the ruling priests and members of the Jewish council, which in turn resulted in Jesus’ delivery to the Roman governor. This juridical process is attested in the famous passage about Jesus, the so-called Testimonium Flavianum (Josephus, Ant. 18.3.3 §63-64), and in a passage that narrates the experience of one Jesus ben Ananias some thirty years later (cf. Josephus, J.W. 6.5.3 §300-309).

A little over a decade ago, archaeology may have made a startling contribution to the study of the priestly figures who opposed Jesus. In Peace Forest, a short distance south of Jerusalem’s Old City, a crypt was unearthed, in which were found several ossuaries, some of which bore the name “Caiaphas”—or at least what some think is the name Caiaphas. On one of the boxes is inscribed the name “Joseph, son Qph’.” The popular vocalization is Qayapha, the Semitic equivalent of the Greek Caiaphas (as in the New Testament; cf. Matt 26:3). Those who make this identification point to Josephus, who says the name of this high priest was “Joseph, called Caiaphas” (Ant. 18.2.2 §34-35; 18.4.3 §95).22 However, not all agree with this identification.23 The inscribed name probably should read Qohpa or Qupha; and in any event, the name given by Josephus is “Joseph, called Caiaphas,” not “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.”

Scholarly inquiry into the meaning of Jesus’ action in the temple precincts has led to fruitful investigations of the temple establishment in the Herodian period, beliefs and practices regarding purity, the perception of corruption in the ruling priesthood, and eschatological speculations about a new temple and the restoration of Israel. This ongoing work is sure to lead to further progress in our understanding of Jesus’ aims and the motives and factors at work against him.

Jesus Was Crucified Outside Jerusalem by the Roman Authorities

All four Gospels and Josephus relate that Jesus was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities and then was handed over to the Roman governor. In keeping with Jewish sensitivities, Jesus was executed outside the walls of the city and his body was taken down and buried before sunset. The thesis recently advanced that Jesus’ body was left hanging on the cross or was cast into a lime pit where it could be mauled by animals24 lacks all verisimilitude, as it flies in the face of Jewish sensitivities regarding burial.25

Once again archaeology has made important contributions to investigation of the persons and factors involved in Jesus’ execution and burial. In 1961, an inscribed stone was unearthed in the ruins of the theatre of Caesarea Maritima, in which Pilate’s name appears and in which his rank is given as praefectus, instead of procurator as had been assumed, almost since the first century.26 One recent study has suggested that the inscription was part of a dedication of a Tiberieum “of the seamen” (nautis), perhaps in reference to a lighthouse.27 If so, this building was probably part of Pilate’s refurbishing and enlargement of the harbor at Caesarea Maritima. It may also suggest that Pilate’s attentions were primarily directed westward, toward Caesarea Maritima and Rome, not eastward, toward Judea and Jerusalem. In contrast to his predecessors and successors, Pilate did not appoint a single Jewish high priest. At the very least, it suggests that Pilate did not interfere with Jewish matters, but was content to follow the advice of the ruling priests.28

Intriguing too was the discovery in 1941 of an ossuary bearing the inscription of one Alexander, son of Simon, of Cyrene.29 We may have here the ossuary of the man whose father carried the cross of Jesus (cf. Mark 15:21). Even more important is the discovery in 1968 of an ossuary containing the bones of a man named Yehohanan, who was crucified sometime in the late 20s of the first century.30 An iron spike was found still embedded in the right ankle bone of the crucifixion victim. The significance of this find is that we have proof that Pontius Pilate, who was governor of Judea at the time, permitted crucified criminals to be buried (whose bones could then be gathered and placed in an ossuary one year later). This datum supports the narrative of the Gospels, in which Pilate grants permission for Jesus’ body to be taken down and buried in a tomb.


The last two “almost indisputable facts” are significant also. The fact that Jesus’ following continues after his death argues for early, widespread belief that Jesus was indeed resurrected (and not simply that his teaching has enduring value). And what was it that held the movement together? Probably more than simply belief in the resurrection; it is more likely that the glue that held the movement together was the belief that Jesus was Israel’s promised Messiah and that his resurrection was proof of it. This then would explain why “some Jews persecuted” the Jesus movement, for it persisted in holding to a belief that had been condemned by both Jewish and Roman authorities.

What then can we know about the historical Jesus? The almost indisputable facts suggest that Jesus was the founder and leader of a movement with a coherent body of teaching, motivated by a clearly articulated goal, which was to prepare God’s people for coming judgment and salvation. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God and demonstrated it in his healings, especially his exorcisms. The appointment of twelve apostles underscores the continuity of Jesus’ ministry with John’s, portending coming restoration. This message inevitably clashed with Jewish authority in Jerusalem, resulting in Jesus’ execution by Roman authority.

But perhaps more can be said. Jesus’ self-reference as the son of man, by which he often alludes to the figure of Daniel 7, his claim to have “authority on earth,” an authority to forgive sins, to declare what is clean and what really defiles, and to make Sabbath pronouncements, and his claim to be the rejected son of the Parable of the Wicked Vineyard Tenants provide substantial evidence of a self-understanding that goes well beyond a sense of call as a prophet. It is no wonder that among his following the conviction grew that Jesus was none other than Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, through whom Israel’s redemption would take place. Although much about Jesus’ life and teaching was unexpected—not least his suffering and death—the resurrection removed all doubts, renewing his movement to continue to proclaim his message and authority. AJ

Craig A. Evans is Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College, Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.


1 R. Bultmann, Jesus and the Word (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1934) 8. For the original German, see R. Bultmann, Jesus (Die Unsterblichen: Die geistigen Heroen der Menschheit in ihrem Leben und Wirken 1; Berlin: Deutsche Bibliothek, 1926) 12.

2 The uprising, if that is what we may call it, was initiated by Ernst Käsemann’s paper read at the gathering of old Marburgers in 1953 and then published the following year; cf. “Das Problem des historischen Jesus,” ZTK 51 (1954) 125-53 = “The Problem of the Historical Jesus,” in Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (SBT 41; London: SCM Press; Naperville: Allenson, 1964) 15-47. There are many discussions of the ensuing “New Quest” of the historical Jesus. For the classic statement, very sympathetic to Bultmann and his leading students, see J. M. Robinson, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus (SBT 25; London: SCM Press, 1959). For an outsider’s perspective, see H. Zahrnt, The Question of God: Protestant Theology in the Twentieth Century (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969), esp. chap. 8 “The Rediscovery of the Historical Jesus” (pp. 253-94).

3 Von Reimarus zu Wrede: Eine Geschichte des Leben-Jesu-Forschung (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1906) = The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (London: A. & C. Black, 1910; repr. with “Introduction” by J. M. Robinson; New York: Macmillan, 1968; rev. ed., Die Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, 1913; 6th ed., 1951).

4 M. Dibelius, Die Formgeschichte des Evangeliums (3rd ed., ed. G. Bornkamm; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1959) = From Tradition to Gospel (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1934; repr. Cambridge and London: James Clarke, 1971); K. L. Schmidt, Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu: Literarkritische Untersuchungen zur ältesten Jesusüberlieferung (Berlin: Trowitzsch & Sohn, 1919).

5 R. Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (FRLANT 12; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1921; 4th ed., 1958) = The History of the Synoptic Tradition (Oxford: Blackwell, 1972). For a critique of German form criticism, see V. Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (London: Macmillan, 1935).

6 The egregious nature of this tendency to minimize the Jewishness of Jesus is no more apparent than in the negative employment of the criterion of dissimilarity, in which only material judged to be dissimilar to known tendencies in Judaism could be accepted as authentic. Many have criticized this inappropriate use of the criterion; cf. G. Theissen and D. Winter, Die Kriterienfrage in der Jesusforschung: Vom Differenzkriterium zum Plausibilitätskriterium (NTOA 34; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997) = The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002); and T. Holmén, “Doubts about Double Dissimilarity: Restructuring the Main Criterion of Jesus-of-History Research,” in B. D. Chilton and C. A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Words of Jesus (NTTS 28/1; Leiden: Brill, 1998) 47-80.

7 It is conventional to trace the beginning of the scholarly quest of the historical Jesus to H. S. Reimarus, Von dem Zwecke Jesu und seiner Jünger: Noch ein Fragment des Wolfenbüttelschen Ungenannten (Fragment 7; ed. G. E. Lessing; Braunschweig: [n.p.], 1778); K. Lachmann (ed.), Lessings Schriften (3rd ed., vols. 12-13; Leipzig: Göschen, 1897) = Fragments from Reimarus consisting of Brief Critical Remarks on the Object of Jesus and His Disciples (ed. C. Voysey; London: Williams and Norgate, 1879); Reimarus: Fragments (ed. C. H. Talbert; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970; London: SCM Press, 1971); The Goal of Jesus and His Disciples (ed. G. W. Buchanan; Leiden: Brill, 1970). The seventh fragment is part of a larger (at that time) unpublished manuscript entitled, Apologie oder Schutzschrift für die vernünftigen Verehre Gottes, which today in its entirety is available, edited by G. Alexander (Frankfurt: Joachim JungiusGesellschaft, 1972).

8 E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) 11.
9 On these issues, see C. A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Canonical Sources,” and J. H. Charlesworth and C. A. Evans, “Jesus in the Agrapha and Apocryphal Gospels,” in B. D. Chilton and C. A. Evans (eds.), Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (NTTS 19; Leiden: Brill, 1994) 443-78 and 479-533, respectively.

10 See C. A. Evans, “The Baptism of John in a Typological Context,” in A. R. Cross and S. E. Porter (eds.), Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies (JSNTSup 234; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002) 45-71.

11 See B. D. Chilton, “John the Purifier,” in B. D. Chilton and C. A. Evans, Jesus in Context: Temple, Purity, and Restoration (AGJU 39; Leiden:

Brill, 1997) 203-30, and J. E. Taylor, The Immerser: John the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism (Studying the Historical Jesus; Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1997). For a recent and astute investigation in Jewish understanding of purity in late antiquity and its relation to Jesus, see S. M. Bryan, Jesus and Israel’s Traditions of Judgement and Restoration (SNTSMS 117; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) chap. 5 “Jesus and the Purity of Israel” (pp. 130-88).

12 The translation is mine, though at points I have been influenced by the arguments in J. P. Meier, “John the Baptist in Josephus: Philology and Exegesis,” JBL 111 (1992) 225-37.

13 On Jesus and the Jewish healers, see G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels (London: Collins; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973) chap. 3 “Jesus and Charismatic Judaism” (pp. 58-82); C. Brown, “Synoptic Miracle Stories: A Jewish Religious and Social Setting,” Forum 2/4 (1986) 55-76; C. A. Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (AGJU 25; Leiden: Brill, 1995) chap. 5 “Jesus and Jewish Miracle Stories” (pp. 213-43); E. Eve, The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles (JSNTSup 231; London and New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002). Eve finds an association between miracle and prophet, which seems borne out by the stories of the Jewish prophets Theudas and others who offered miraculous signs. Note also the miracle of the raising of the man in the city of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). When the miracle occurs, the crowd says of Jesus: “A great prophet has risen among us!” (Luke 7:16).

14 As rightly argued by Bryan, Jesus and Israel’s Traditions of Judgement and Restoration, 41-44.

15 See J. D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991).
16 See M. A. Chancey, The Myth of a Gentile Galilee (SNTSMS 118; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

17 See J. P. Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist during Jesus’

Public Ministry?” JBL 116 (1997) 635-72; S. McKnight, “Jesus and the Twelve,” BBR 11 (2001) 203-31. McKnight finds covenant renewal, along with restoration hopes, lying behind the appointment of the Twelve.

18 On James, see J. Painter, Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition (Studies on Personalities of the New Testament; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999; 1st ed., Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997). For discussion of the recently publicized ossuary, on which is inscribed the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” see A. Lemaire, “Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus,” BAR 28/6 (2002) 24-33, 70; and C. A. Evans, “Jesus and the Ossuaries,” BBR 13 (2003) 21-46.

19 The discovery of 4Q246, which foretells the coming of one who will be called “son of God” and “son of the Most High,” puts to rest the critical dogma that this language was not native to the land of Israel in late antiquity and had no messianic reference. To speak of the Messiah as God’s Son derives from Old Testament Scripture itself (e.g., Ps 2:2, 7; 2 Sam 7:14).

20 Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 61-76, 363-69 (notes).

21 For discussion, see C. A. Evans, “Jesus and the ‘Cave of Robbers’: Toward a Jewish Context for the Temple Action,” BBR 3 (1993) 93-110; Bryan, Jesus and Israel’s Traditions of Judgement and Restoration, 189-235.

22 Z. Greenhut, “The ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb in North Talpiyot, Jerusalem,” ‘Atiqot 21 (1992) 63-71; R. Reich, “Ossuary Inscriptions from the ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb,”‘Atiqot 21 (1992) 72-77.

23 For example, see W. Horbury, “The ‘Caiaphas’ Ossuaries and Joseph Caiaphas,” PEQ 126 (1994) 32-48.
24 J. D. Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995).

25 See B. R. McCane, “‘Where no one had yet been laid’: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial,” in B. D. Chilton and C. A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (NTTS 28/2; Leiden: Brill, 1998) 431-52.

26 A. Frova, “L’iscrizione di Ponzio Pilato a Cesarea,” Rendiconti dell’Istituto Lombardo 95 (1961) 419-34. That Pilate’s true rank was praefectus

27 G. Alfoldy, “Pontius Pilate und das Tiberieum von Caesarea Martima,” Scripta Classica Israelica 18 (1999) 85-108.

28 This supports the Gospels’ portrait of a politically shrewd, calculating man.  See B.C. McGing, “pontious Pilate and the Sources,” CBQ 53 (1991) 416-38

29 A brief notice of the discovery was published by E.L. Sukenik, in BASOR88 (1942)38. Full publication came two decades later; cf. N.Avigad,”A Depository of Inscribed Ossuaries in Kidron Valley,” IEJ 12 (1962) 1-12+pls.1-4.

30 N. Haas, “Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar,” IEJ 20 (1970)38-59; Y.Yadin, “Epigraphy and Crucifixion,” IEJ (1973) 18-22+plate; J.Zias and E. Skeles, “The Crucified Man from Giv’at ha-Mivtar:A Reappraisal,” IEJ 35 (1985) 22-2.