Father Michel Garat’s response:
The question deserves attention because almost a third of humanity refers to Jesus and believes that he really existed.
This question arose more acutely from the XVIIIth century when science has questioned what was obvious to so far. The field of faith is particularly shaken by new questions. Historians then asserted that Jesus was born from the imagination and the hearts of those who awaited the Messiah, the liberator of the People of God, subjected to the Roman Empire in Judea and Galilee of the 1st century. Besides, Jesus himself did not write anything. So the person of Jesus is only literary fiction. Jesus is the product, not the creator of Christianity, as was the state at the end of the XIXth century. What to answer? Let us say at the outset that hardly anyone today doubts the historical existence of Jesus. What sources can we rely on?
The writings of the New Testament
There are first of all the Christian sources themselves, very abundant: the letters of Saint Paul, the Gospels, the Apocrypha. Saint Paul is the first Christian author. His message rests on the cross, on the inescapable reality of the cross, which is “ scandal for the Jews, folly for the pagans but for those who are called,… power of God and wisdom of God ” ( 1 Corinthians 1, 23- 24 ). Could he invent such an infamous, ignominious death? When he writes, there are still many witnesses to the events of the passion. The fact of death on the cross has not been contested, contrary to his interpretation: for Paul, Jesus did not remain a prisoner of death but he is Alive, Risen. It is obvious to him, a reality that he announces in time and out of time. As much as death on the cross belongs to history, the fact of the resurrection remains unverifiable. The resurrection rests on the testimony, that of the apostles, that of Paul, and of the Christians following them.
A historical fact: he died under Pontius Pilate!
The Gospels announce that he died under Pontius Pilate. Are they saying true? Pontius Pilate was Roman prefect in Judea at the time of Jesus’ death; the gospel did not invent it, it is indeed attested by a Latin inscription found during excavations in Caesarea maritime.
Jesus evoked by non-Christian authors
Other non-Christian sources speak of Jesus called Christ, who became a reference for many communities spread throughout the Roman Empire from the first and the beginning of the second century. Thus the historian Tacitus, about the burning of part of Rome in AD 64: “ Nero produced as accused,… people hated for their depravity, whom the crowd called Christians. This name comes from Christ, whom under the principate of Tiberius, the procurator Pontius Pilate had delivered to the torment ”(Tacitus, Annals, XV, 44). Pliny the Younger wrote to the emperor around 110 to denounce the practices of Christians who meet to ” sing among themselves a hymn to Christ as to a god ” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, X, 96).
Jewish authors also speak of Jesus. Flavius Josephus, the historian of the end of the first century, gives this precision in Jewish Antiquities (XX, 9, 1): “ Ananus gathers the Sanhedrin of the judges and made appear before them James, the brother of Jesus, says Christ, thus than a few others; he accused them of having violated the law and delivered them to stoning ”.
Faced with so many attestations, internal or external, it is difficult to say today that Jesus did not exist!
Father Michel Garat, exegete, pastor of the parish of Saint-Vincent de Paul and professor at the Theology Branch of the Pays de l’Adour, diocese of Bayonne.