Questioned regularly since the 18th century, and again this fall with the publication of The theory of Jesus, work by Michel Onfray (Ed. Bouquins, 272p., €21), the earthly existence of a Galilean named Jesus in the 1st century AD is not in doubt among serious historians. Even if everyone explains that the Resurrection, on the other hand, escapes the framework of events on which they have the competence to pronounce.
1 – The large number and quality of sources
The first reason for their certainty: we have an astonishing number of written sources on Jesus, much more than for Alexander the Great, for example. Certainly, most of these texts – Gospels, letters of Paul, etc. – come from Christian communities. But they are no less valuable as documents in the same way as the speeches of Cicero (106 -43 BC) or The Gallic Wars by Julius Caesar (100-44 BC), which, each in their own genre, reflect a very personal and partial point of view without doubting the existence of their author. Moreover, to return to Jesus, some non-Christians, and in particular the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, also mention this obscure rabbi and his disciples who were very agitated (read our box below…)
2 – Cross-referencing multiple documents
The second reason, which the historian Maurice Sartre, specialist in the Roman East, explained very well in the journal L’Histoire, is that what all these sources teach us about Jewish society in the 1st century, ” crossing of messianic movements” is entirely consistent with what we know elsewhere. More broadly: the world described in the Gospels corresponds to a historical reality that can be reconstructed by combining multiple documents and the results of modern archaeological excavations. For example, while it was long thought that synagogues were only built after 70 CE, when the Temple was destroyed, in Jerusalem, some have been unearthed that date back to the 30s CE, when where the Gospels describe Jesus preaching there.
For all these reasons, it is certain that Jesus existed, that he was probably born in 6 BCE and died on the Jewish Passover of the year 30. “On the other hand, Daniel summarized a few years ago Marguerat, specialist exegete of the New Testament and author of Life and destiny of Jesus of Nazareth: “we will never know if Jesus had big hands, a deep voice, or what color his hair was…”