The Faith of a Liberal: Selected Essays by Morris R. Cohen

By Morris R. Cohen | Go to book overview

37
A NOTE ON RABBI JOSHUA OF NAZARETH

JUDGED by the ordinary rigorous canons of scientific evidence pursued by the scholarly historian, nothing is known with any certainty about the life of Rabbi Joshua of Nazareth, more generally known as Jesus. Very early in the first century A.D. he became identified with the Jewish preternatural view of the Messiah* (as exemplified in the Ethiopian Book of Enoch), and even with the Deity Himself. Stories about his miraculous birth, unknown to Paul, became current even as early as the First Gospel. Even though Paul heard about his crucifixion, Jesus himself appeared to him as the spirit of righteousness and sanctity, seen not in the flesh but heard only in a vision. Thus it has become possible for some scholars to doubt the actual historical existence of Jesus. (See Benjamin Smith Der Vor- Kristliche Jesus, which tries to point out that Jesus was an object of worship before the date commonly ascribed for his birth.) It is indeed remarkable that though Jesus lived in a highly literate age, and was the contemporary of Philo and Josephus as well as of well-known Jewish Rabbis, there are no references to his existence by any historically known contemporaries, notwithstanding the fact that the writers of the gospels wrote as if they were eyewitnesses. Josephus indeed refers to his brother James, but the reference to Jesus himself in Josephus is an obvious and clumsy interpolation. No authentic historical ref-

____________________
*
The Hebrew word meaning "anointed," translated into Greek as "Christos."

-320-

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