Description: Historicity of Jesus' life - comparison of ancient manuscripts - Caesar
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Evidence for Jesus’ Life – Ancient Manuscripts
by Ernest O’Neill
We’ve been talking about the one messenger from outer space that our planet has ever received or encountered.
Of course, His name is a name that all of us have known since we were children. Yet, it’s a name that tells
us more about the origin of our world than any other name.
It’s the name of the one human being that has been able to leave our planet, go out into space beyond where
our space shots go and actually encounter the Supreme Being that created our universe, come back and tell us
what He is like, why He made us, and what the point of this whole life here on earth is.
That man is, of course, the man Jesus. We’ve been talking about the fact that he is a historical figure. He is
not a myth. He is a historical figure more reliably recorded, as far as his actions and his words are
concerned, than either Julius Caesar or any of the great figures of that era.
The history that we have of him is found in the last quarter of the book that we call the Bible. It’s actually
the part called the New Testament. That is far from being just religious myth. That is actually good reliable
history.(cid:9)We have been talking about how we can trust that the people that wrote that history did actually
observe the things that they wrote about.
They can be relied upon and their word can be trusted because, in fact, they died for the things they wrote
about. There were many other eye-witnesses alive at the same time who observed the same events and read their
accounts. There was no public outcry that their accounts were lies or were inventions. Rather, they were
accepted as the truth.
We’ve come to the point where we see that it is quite reasonable to believe that these men were actually alive
when they saw these events they recorded in the last quarter of the book we call the Bible. What many of us
have had trouble with is the fact that this all occurred so many years ago.
I remember thinking myself, “Well, wait a minute. This occurred in the first century. That was 2,000 years
ago. Now, maybe these men did write the truth about those days. But, how can we be sure that somebody hasn’t
tampered with it since?” Of course, that’s the problem you run up against in regard to most of our classical
I don’t know if you realize it, but Caesar’s “History of the Gallic Wars” is one of the books that those of us
who studied Latin had to be familiar with. It’s one of the books we regard as the most reliable history books
that we have.
We read Caesar’s “History of the Gallic War”, and we have no doubt that what we’re reading is actually what
occurred in those days. Yet, the amazing fact is this, that Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” actually record events
that took place between 100 and 44 B.C.
The first manuscript we have of the “History of the Gallic Wars” is, would you believe it, not 22 B.C. which
would be 20 years after the events, not even 100 A.D. which would be 120 years after the events; not even 500
A.D., which would be 520 years after the events. The first manuscript that we have, the earliest manuscript
that we have still in existence of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, is dated 900 A.D.
Yet, all of us who have studied Latin, who have studied Roman history, have absolute confidence that when we
read Caesar’s “History of the Gallic Wars”, we are reading what actually took place in those days. In spite of
the fact there are one thousand years, a period of a thousand years, that has elapsed between when Caesar
actually wrote his original manuscript, and when the manuscript that we have, came into existence.
During that time, of course, you have one thousand years when long ago people had died who had observed the
Gallic Wars, and there have been thousands and millions of people who lived in the interval, any one of whom
could have got Caesar’s original manuscript, and changed it and created all kinds of imaginary myths.
Yet, we do not question for a moment that what we read of the Gallic Wars, is what Caesar actually wrote, in
spite of the fact that we don’t have his original manuscript. We don’t even have the manuscript that was
copied from his; we don’t even have the manuscript that was copied from that copy of his.
We don’t even have a manuscript that was written within a hundred years of his life or death. We don’t even
have a manuscript that was written within 400 years of the Gallic Wars. Our earliest manuscript was actually
written in 900 A.D. — a thousand years after the Gallic Wars were fought.
Yet we have no doubt in our minds that when we read the history of the Gallic Wars we are reading what Caesar
actually wrote. Now, it’s the same with most of the other classical authors. There is a vast gap between the
manuscript that they originally wrote and the earliest manuscript that we have.
In other words, you know that in those days we did not have paper. We had a thing called papyrus and a thing
called vellum (animal skin) and then this papyrus (made out of reeds). None of them were very permanent. They
all deteriorated with age.
It was the normal pattern that scribes would copy the old manuscript onto new papyrus or the old manuscript
onto new vellum and then would automatically destroy the old manuscript. That’s part of the reason why we have
so few early manuscripts of the history books of those ancient days.
It’s the same you know with Plato’s “Republic”. Probably none of us who studied philosophy at university have
failed to study Plato’s “Republic”. We all regard his “Republic” as a base text in Philosophy I. It is what
We have no doubt that when we read Plato’s “Republic” we read actually what he wrote. And we’re reading
Socrates and what he thought. And yet Plato’s “Republic” was written somewhere between 427 and 347 B.C.
That’s when Plato lived. So, Plato’s “Republic” was written somewhere about 400 B.C. Now, do we have his
original manuscript? No. Do we have the manuscript that was copied from his? No. Do we have another
manuscript? No. Do we have another manuscript that was written within 200 years of his life? No. Do we have
one that was written within 400 years? No.
The earliest manuscript that we have of Plato’s “Republic” is dated 900 A.D., dated by carbon dating which is
reliable within a thousand or two thousand years. It becomes unreliable after you get into what you call tens
of thousands of years or millions of years, but it’s reliable in regard to a thousand or two thousand years.
That dates the earliest manuscript of Plato’s “Republic” at 900 A.D. He wrote the “Republic” in 400 B.C. So,
1200 or 1300 years have elapsed between when he wrote his original manuscript and when this manuscript that we
have in our hands, in one of our libraries, came into existence.
In other words, there were twelve or thirteen-hundred years during which anyone could have gotten Plato’s
original manuscript and changed it in all kinds of ways and re-written it and re-created the whole theory and
the philosophy. Yet, not one of us in our philosophy classes questions that when we read Plato’s “Republic”
today, we’re reading the actual manuscript that he wrote 1500 to 2500 years ago.
So, that’s the kind of evidence that we have for ancient manuscripts and ancient histories. What kind of
manuscript evidence have we for the New Testament history? Can we be sure what they wrote in those days about
Jesus is actually what we’re reading today? Let’s talk about that tomorrow.