Did Jesus Exist? An Essential Guide to the Evidence Jesus Existed

James H. Charlesworth summarizes the historical evidence of Jesus

Read the full review by John Merrill.

New Testament and Dead Sea Scroll scholar James H. Charlesworth summarizes the historical evidence of Jesus and answers that all-important question: Did Jesus exist?

The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide

by James H. Charlesworth

(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), 131 pp., $18 (softcover)

Did Jesus exist? After reading James H. Charlesworth’s The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide, reviewer and Biblical Archaeology Review contributing editor John Merrill believes there is considerable evidence Jesus existed. According to Merrill, Charlesworth’s book boils down the historical evidence of Jesus to 27 key questions—a sort of “Everything you wanted to know about the historical Jesus (but were afraid to ask).” Included are simple, straight-forward discussions of scholarly research into the evidence Jesus existed, the relationship between Jesus and the Judaism of his day, and the archaeological and non-biblical, textual evidence Jesus existed.

Merrill finds Charlesworth’s discussion of Jesus’ beliefs in the context of Second Temple Judaism particularly valuable for answering the question, “Did Jesus exist?” As argued by Charlesworth, concepts like grace, forgiveness and belief in resurrection were well developed within Jewish thought by the time of Jesus’ ministry. The historical evidence of Jesus illustrates that earliest Christianity was very much a “Jewish phenomenon.” But as the historical evidence of Jesus also shows, Jesus’ message cannot be easily identified with the teachings of other Jewish groups.

But in answering the question, “Did Jesus exist?” Charlesworth’s Essential Guide also leaves out a few important details, writes Merrill. For example, in his discussion of the evidence Jesus existed, Charlesworth only briefly examines the relationship between Jesus and the Essenes, the sectarian Jews often associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library of Qumran. And while Merrill believes Charlesworth’s 27-question approach runs the risk of over simplifying the historical evidence of Jesus, he concludes the approach is useful for summarizing the evidence Jesus existed.


Read the full review by John Merrill.



The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide

The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide

by James H. Charlesworth

(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008), 131 pp., $18 (softcover)

Read the full review by John Merrill.

Posted in Daily, Jesus/Historical Jesus.

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15 Responses

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  1. Krzysztof says

    to comment on: “Contrary to nativity traditions, Jesus was probably not born in Bethlehem. We may never know with certainty whether Jesus was married”.
    R.E.Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, the classic proved absolutely that Betlehem is not a historical place of birth of Jesus. The recent discovery of Talpiot tome could suggest-for the first time that Jesus before conversion (the scene of baptism by John)-was married@had a child.

    Is this devilish world (of university@school) totally illiterate?

  2. judy says

    When I see a title like this .. “Did Jesus exist”? I can’t help but think why does everyone question the validity of his life … why doesn’t anyone ever question the validity of Abraham Lincoln’s life? Where are the articles that read “Did Abraham Lincoln exist” or George Washington or Ghandi … how ridiculous .. Of course Jesus existed.

  3. JAMES says

    Knowledge about Jesus’ (family) origins is not finally answered by R.E. Brown ; the search to clarify the historical record continues. Galilean archaeologists Mordechai Aviam and Uzi Leibner have clarified that a major immigration from Judea into the Galilee occurred around 100 BCE (if memory serves, Leibner proposes two waves of settlement), replacing sparse but significant non-Jewish settlements (e.g., Kh. Qana). Obviously Judean settlers would have left behind family relations and brought necessary skills to create habitable space. This settlement of Judeans is compatible with the strong connections of 1st century Galileans to Judean traditions (e.g., mikva’ot and stone vessels). This Judean connection may become more prominent in future studies if the menorah carved into the stone table of the Magdala synagogue is convincingly dated to the 1st century by its excavator, Dina Avshalom-Gorni. My point is that to assert “Jesus was not born in Bethlehem” may become an inadequate explanation of the accumulating evidence of 1st century life in Israel. Said another way, it is entirely possible that Jesus of Nazareth possibly had family relations in Judea, including Bethlehem. [I am not suggesting this historical and archaeological information proves Jesus was born in Bethlehem.]

  4. Patrick Morgan says

    I am always amazed at the bizarre statements that have “supposedly” been proven to be true, like the one about the birthplace of Jesus. No, not one, not ever, in any publication, at any time, by anyone, anywhere, has there ever been proof provided that “proved” that Jesus was NOT born in Bethlehem. Only someone illiterate in Biblical studies and the first four books of the Bible would make that statement. Does the writer think the Apostles were idiots? Why would they make this up, it is an absurd statement! Only Talipot tome believes in his “theory,” there is no hard evidence to prove his work on the subject. He best stick to collecting ancient pots and attaching other bogus theories to their origin and history. As for Krzysztof, do you realize that Jesus was God in the flesh? Why would God marry and have a child? God already had a child, his only son, Jesus Christ. Once you begin to talk in biblical terms, you need to read and study the whole bible before you begin to adhere to some hypothesis that has no foundation in hard fact. You have a lot of learning to do.

  5. MR says

    According to Luke 1:2, the Gospel of Luke was composed from eyewitness accounts. Luke 2, verses 4 – 6, clearly point to Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. From the Old Testament comes this, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Contrary to man’s “scholarly research”, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Both James Charlesworth and John Merrill would benefit by trusting more in God’s word.

  6. Steve says

    Years ago, I subscribed to BAR, but dropped my subscription due to articles and reviews like the above. It seemed like every other article attacked my Christian faith and was written from a secular viewpoint. BAR regularly seemed to discount the writings of the New testament (and sometimes the Old Testament). I believe many are mislead when they subscribe to a magazine titled “Biblical Archaeology Review”. BAR seems to have forgotten the “Biblical” part.

  7. aj says

    I just focus on the teachings, too much of these kind of info troubles the mind.And a waste of time. These findings are unproven yet unchallenged and thats the sad part. They claim it to be valid.

  8. THOMAS says

    The biography of Jesus is not important. His teaching is important. It was simply a restating of what should have been learned from the Torah. More important than his teaching is that he lived and he lived the life he taught.

  9. Erik says

    Jesus’ biography is important. Whether He is the Son of God, of a virgin birth, performed miracles, resisted temptation, that He died and rose from the dead. Any other details of His life that were prophesied (that includes His birthplace).

  10. Paul says

    As for Talipot tome his opinion is nothing but provisional interpretation based on his own irrational bias but offers zero actual evidence of such a claim and Krzysztof should really not get hung up on Dan Browns fiction.

    Paul S.

  11. Aristofanes says

    I´d like to hear something from Dr. John Meier about this topic (Jesus was not born in Bethlehem).

  12. Jay says

    This is mostly a comment on the above comments by others.I’ll start with the claim Jesus was born in Bethlehem.Micah 5:2 was never,ever a prophesy about where the Messiah was to be born.Verse 2 is pulled out of context with surrounding verses and made to seem a prophecy by the writer of Matthew.
    If you read Micah 5:1-6 in context this is about a military leader,which Jesus never was.Verse 1 mentions troops,v.6 shows the land of Assyria wasted by war.The 2 words Bethlehem Ephratah when connected together never means the town of Bethlehem it means the man named Bethlehem and the cult of Bethlehem Ephratah mentioned in Deuteronomy and Ruth,it is not a prophecy of where the Messiah was to be born.If you notice in Matt.2:6 the writer of Matthew(whoever he was)deliberately leaves out the word Ephratah and substitutes the word Juda,making it seem to be about the town of Bethlehem.The writer of Matthew screws up a lot of things in the book of Matthew.I was going to type more but i am not sure how long comments can be.Anyone responding to this email forward it to me at my email address above.Thanks.
    Jay Osborne

  13. Sarah says

    Stop. He wasn’t married, that’s aberration, how about I say you two guys were married? He didn’t give himself in marriage, neither did any. It is written, it is written, He did not commit, He did not give himself (other translations, too) unto men John 2:24.

  14. Sarah says

    And He did speak about military and was great! For your information, Mr. Rabbi, you didn’t connect the dots (like when Jesus says Matthew 9:13, people don’t obey, and as a result they Murdered Him, basically (Matthew 12:7) or that all The prophecies came true. . .and please see and connect. The claim that with Messiah’s reign will bring in everlasting peace to David’s throne is spiritual because David’s throne’s curse says sword every generation because David (had murderous thought+ followed) murdered the man for his wife. And when you have connected, welcome! Thanks for reading :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

  15. Gregory says

    Nobody has mentioned the best proof (for non-Christians) that Jesus existed. He is specifically mentioned in TWO prominent non-Christian sources : the Roman historian Tacitus and the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, neither particularly sympathetic to Christianity. There are 4 facts to be drawn from these 2 sources: 1) Jesus existed,2) he had a following, 3) he was executed by the Roman authorities in Judea and 4) his following continued past his death.

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