The events of the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, are not based on any known historical facts. There is no supporting evidence in architecture, surviving laws or descriptions form such methodical historians as the Romans. Basically, all of the so-called historical evidence of the New Testament comes only from the New Testament.
This is one of the complaints that evolutionary scientist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins brings up in The God Delusion (Bantam Books; 2006). In this instance, he was addressing people who believe the New Testament to be historically accurate and not those who take the New Testament to be a spiritual allegory. That’s also the direction that this article will take.
Establishing Historical Accuracy
How do historians establish something as historically factual and not just theory or legend? They need to find supporting evidence of the stories in other forms of written or artistic mentions from sources other than the stories themselves. It’s as if historians try to find the fossils of a legend.
There has not been one shred of evidence found for any of the Gospel stories. The Romans (meticulous record keepers) never mentioned anything like the “Slaughter of the Innocents” by King Herod or that every man in the Roman Empire had to travel to his place of birth in order to be taxed. These are very big events that would have shook the entire Empire. But, although many writings exist from the time of 1 BC to 33 AD, there are no other sources.
The New Testament canon was not put together until the Council of Nicea (325 AD), held some three hundred years after the legendary Christ’s death and resurrection. By that time, there were many, often contradictory, legends about Christ. Even the four Gospels have differing accounts of his birth, miracles and prophecies.
Unicorns were thought to exist but no one had ever seen the entire animal. The fabulous twisted horn sold as alicorn (unicorn’s horn) in the Middle Ages and beyond out to be that of a narwhal or ibex. It is now considered a scientific fact that unicorns do not exist. All historians at the time could do was write down what others had told them about unicorns.
Europe believed in unicorns largely because of the writings of the rather mischievous Greek Pliney the Elder. His descriptions of unicorns include the horn of the animal being limp until the animal was aroused in some way. Pliney was so respected that everyone thought he was telling the truth.
He wasn’t. Not only because there aren’t any unicorns today, but also because there aren’t any unicorn fossils and there also haven’t been respected writings that match Pliney’s rather pornographic account. It is possible that this Greek naturalist was misinterpreted by his Roman admirers.
What About Paul?
The only person in the New Testament that probably lived was Saul of Taursus, who later became St. Paul. But even St. Paul’s existence is in question. His letters differ greatly in style, grammar and content, suggesting that there were many cooks in the St. Paul soup. Paul was supposed to do a lot of miracles and then was executed by the sword, but again, there is no other evidence for his existence or death other than by tradition. There’s no death warrant, no order of execution, no statements from witnesses, no diary entries, no letters – nothing.
There are Chrisitian organizations that are trying to find historical and archeological proof of New testament stories. But nothing has nothing has been found so far. The Bible is a collection of old legends and stories. Much can be gleaned from a sciety by its stories, but stories are not historically reliable facts.
Associates for Biblical Research. “The Slaughter of the Innocents: Historical Fact or Legendary Fiction?” http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/12/09/The-Slaughter-of-the-Innocents-Historical-Fact-or-Legendary-Fiction.aspx
“Catholicism For Dummies.” John Trigilio & Kenneth Brighenti. For Dummies; 2003.
“The God Delusion.” Richard Dawkins. Bantam Books; 2006.
“The Lore of the Unicorn.” Odell Shepard. Random House; 1988.