Historicity of Jesus
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The historicity of Jesus concerns the analysis of historical evidence to determine whether Jesus of Nazareth existed as a historical figure, and whether any of the major milestones in his life as portrayed in the gospels can be confirmed as historical events.
Historicity is the historical actuality of persons and events, meaning the quality of being part of history as opposed to being a historical myth, legend, or fiction. Historicity focuses on the truth value of knowledge claims about the past (denoting historical actuality, authenticity, and factuality.) The historicity of a claim about the past is its factual status.
The historicity of Jesus is distinct from the related study of the historical Jesus, which, according to James Dunn, "is properly speaking a nineteenth- and twentieth-century construction using the data supplied by the Synoptic tradition, not Jesus back then," (the Jesus of Nazareth who walked the hills of Galilee), "and not a figure in history whom we can realistically use to critique the portrayal of Jesus in the Synoptic tradition." These reconstructions accept that Jesus existed, although scholars differ about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus as well as the accuracy of the parts of his life that have been recorded in the Gospels.
The majority viewpoint among scholars is that Jesus existed. Bart Ehrman has claimed that Jesus certainly existed, and that "virtually every competent scholar" agrees with him. Richard A. Burridge has stated that he does not know of any "respectable critical scholar" who still argues that there never was a Jesus at all. Classical historian Michael Grant said that, in recent years, "no serious scholar" has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus.
Philip Davies points out that Christians have a stake in the "unanswerable question" of Jesus’ historicity, and that scholars such as Ehrman use "highly emotive and dismissive language" to attack, "ad hominem, as something outrageous" the whole idea of raising this question. Davis suggests that the idea of testing the "rather fragile historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth," or even working out what kind of historical research might be appropriate, is controversial among New Testament scholars. He notes that, while he is inclined to believe that a historical Jesus existed, arguments that Jesus was invented more soundly demonstrate that nothing reliable can be known about the historical Jesus's life, teachings, or even initial followers before Paul of Tarsus.
Scholars who believe that Jesus existed differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts, and the only two events subject to "almost universal assent" are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. There is a significant debate about his nature, his actions and his sayings, but most scholars agree that Jesus was a Galilean Jew who was born between 7-4BC and died 30–36 AD, that he lived in Galilee and Judea and did not preach or study elsewhere, and that he spoke Aramaic and perhaps also Hebrew and Greek, although this has been disputed.
Since the 18th century a number of quests for the historical Jesus have taken place, and historical critical methods for studying the historicity of Jesus have been developed. Various Christian and non-Christian sources are used to study and establish the historicity of Jesus, e.g. Jewish sources such as Josephus, and Roman sources such as Tacitus. These sources are compared and contrasted to Christian sources such as the Pauline Letters and the Synoptic Gospels. These sources are usually independent of each other (e.g. Jewish sources do not draw upon Roman sources), and similarities and differences between them are used in the authentication process.
Historicity is the historical actuality or historical authenticity of a person or event, as opposed to being a myth, legend, or fiction. Historicity focuses on the truth value of knowledge claims about the past (denoting historical actuality, authenticity, and factuality.) The historicity of a claim about the past is its factual status.
Questions regarding historicity concern not just the issue of "what really happened," but also the issue of how modern observers can come to know "what really happened." This second issue is closely tied to historical research practices and methodologies for analyzing the reliability of primary sources and other evidence. 
Evidence of Jesus
The sources for the historicity of Jesus are mainly Christian sources, such as the gospels and the purported letters of the apostles. The authenticity and reliability of these sources has been questioned by many scholars, and few events mentioned in the gospels are universally accepted.
There are three mentions of Jesus in non-Christian sources, which have been used in historical analyses of the existence of Jesus. These are two mentions in the works of 1st-century Roman historian Josephus and one mention in the works of the 2nd-century Roman historian Tacitus. Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93–94 AD, includes two references to the biblical Jesus Christ in Books 18 and 20. The general scholarly view is that while the longer passage, known as the Testimonium Flavianum, is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it is broadly agreed upon that it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus, which was then subject to Christian interpolation or forgery. Of the other mention in Josephus, Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman has stated that "few have doubted the genuineness" of Josephus' reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20, 9, 1 and it is only disputed by a small number of scholars. Roman historian Tacitus referred to Christus and his execution by Pontius Pilate in his Annals (written ca. AD 116), book 15, chapter 44. The very negative tone of Tacitus' comments on Christians make the passage extremely unlikely to have been forged by a Christian scribe and the Tacitus reference is now widely accepted as an independent confirmation of Christ's crucifixion.
If we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.
Accepted historic facts
Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted. In antiquity, the existence of Jesus was never denied by those who opposed Christianity. Geoffrey Blainey notes that a few scholars have argued that Jesus did not exist, but writes that Jesus' life was in fact "astonishingly documented" by the standards of the time – more so than any of his contemporaries – with numerous books, stories and memoirs written about him. The problem for the historian, wrote Blainey, is not therefore, determining whether Jesus actually existed, but rather in considering the "sheer multitude of detail and its inconsistencies and contradictions". There is, however, widespread disagreement among scholars on the details of the life of Jesus mentioned in the gospel narratives, and on the meaning of his teachings.
According to New Testament scholar James Dunn, nearly all modern scholars consider the baptism of Jesus and his crucifixion to be historically certain. He states that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent" and "rank so high on the 'almost impossible to doubt or deny' scale of historical facts" that they are often the starting points for the study of the historical Jesus.
Bart D. Ehrman states that the existence of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans is attested to by a wide range of sources including Josephus and Tacitus. John P. Meier views the crucifixion of Jesus as historical fact and states that based on the criterion of embarrassment Christians would not have invented the painful death of their leader. Meier states that a number of other criteria, e.g. the criterion of multiple attestation (i.e. confirmation by more than one source), the criterion of coherence (i.e. that it fits with other historical elements) and the criterion of rejection (i.e. that it is not disputed by ancient sources) help establish the crucifixion of Jesus as a historical event. Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, highly skeptical with regard to the Gospel accounts of miracles, wrote in 1995
That (Jesus) was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus... agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.
One of the arguments in favour of the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John is that it is a story which the early Christian Church would have never wanted to invent, typically referred to as the criterion of embarrassment in historical analysis. Based on this criterion, given that John baptised for the remission of sins, and Jesus was viewed as without sin, the invention of this story would have served no purpose, and would have been an embarrassment given that it positioned John above Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew attempts to offset this problem by having John feel unworthy to baptise Jesus and Jesus giving him permission to do so in Matthew 3:14–15.
Leading historian of ancient history Robin Lane Fox states "Jesus was born in Galilee". Co-director of Ancient Cultures Research Centre at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia Alanna Nobbs has stated "While historical and theological debates remain about the actions and significance of this figure, his fame as a teacher, and his crucifixion under the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, may be described as historically certain."
Amy-Jill Levine has summarized the situation by stating that "there is a consensus of sorts on the basic outline of Jesus' life" in that most scholars agree that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and over a period of one to three years debated Jewish authorities on the subject of God, gathered followers, and was crucified by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate who officiated 26-36 AD. There is much in dispute as to his previous life, childhood, family and place of residence, of which the canonical gospels are almost completely silent. This silence is a problematic fact in explaining the historiography of Jesus. It has been suggested that it was the result of a conflict between the Nazarene Jewish followers of Jesus, led by his brother James, and the nascent Gentilic Christians led by the Apostle Paul.
Scholars attribute varying levels of certainty to other episodes. E.P. Sanders and Craig A. Evans independently state that there are two other incidents in the life of Jesus that can be considered historical: that Jesus called disciples, and that he caused a controversy at the Temple. This extended view assumes that there are eight elements about Jesus and his followers that can be viewed as historical facts—four episodes in the life of Jesus and four about him and his followers, namely:
- Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. He called disciples. He had a controversy at the Temple. Jesus was crucified by the Romans near Jerusalem.
- Jesus was a Galilean. His activities were confined to Galilee and Judea. After his death his disciples continued. Some of his disciples were persecuted.
The Mishnah (c. 200) may refer to Jesus and reflect the early Jewish traditions of portraying Jesus as a sorcerer or magician. Other possible references to Jesus and his execution may exist in the Talmud, but they also aim to discredit his actions, not deny his existence.
The Christ myth theory is the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and the accounts in the gospels. The theory that Jesus never existed at all has very little scholarly support.
Quest for the historical Jesus
In the early church, there were already tendencies to portray Jesus as a verifiable demonstration of the extraordinary. While textual criticism (or lower criticism) had been practiced for centuries, a number of approaches to historical analysis and a number of criteria for evaluating the historicity of events emerged as of 18th century. Since the 18th century, scholars have taken part in three separate "quests" for the historical Jesus, attempting to reconstruct various portraits of his life using historical methods. At each stage of development, these quests introduced new methods and specific methodologies to determine the historical validity of their conclusions.
- The Bible and history
- Census of Quirinius, the enrollment of the Roman provinces of Syria and Judaea for tax purposes taken in the year 6/7.
- Chronology of Jesus
- Cultural and historical background of Jesus
- Historical reliability of the Gospels
- Quest for the historical Jesus
- Sources for the historicity of Jesus
- Wandersee, J. H. (1992), The historicality of cognition: Implications for science education research. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 29: 423–434. doi: 10.1002/tea.3660290409
- Harre, R., & Moghaddam, F.M. (2006). Historicity, social psychology, and change. In Rockmore, T. & Margolis, J. (Eds.), History, historicity, and science (pp. 94-120). London: Ashgate Publishing Limited
- Jesus Remembered Volume 1, by James D. G. Dunn 2003 ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 pp. 125-126. See also Meir, Marginal Jew, 1:21-25; T. Merrigan, The Historical Jesus in the Pluralist Theology of Religions, in The Myriad Christ: Plurality and the Quest for Unity in Contemporary Christology (ed. T. Merrigan and J. Haers). Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research, & Charlesworth, J. H. Jesus research: New methodologies and perceptions : the second Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research, Princeton 2007, p. 77-78: "Dunn points out as well that 'the Enlightenment Ideal of historical objectivity also projected a false goal onto the quest for the historical Jesus,' which implied that there was a 'historical Jesus,' objectively verifiable, 'who will be different from the dogmatic Christ and the Jesus of the Gospels and who will enable us to criticize the dogmatic Christ and the Jesus of the Gospels.' (Jesus Remembered, p. 125)."
- Ehrman, Bart. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-515462-2, chapters 13, 15
- While discussing the "striking" fact that "we don't have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus," Ehrman dismisses claims that this means Jesus never existed, saying, "He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence." B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285
- Robert M. Price (a former fundamentalist apologist turned atheist who says the existence of Jesus cannot be ruled out, but is less probable than non-existence) agrees that this perspective runs against the views of the majority of scholars: Robert M. Price "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in The Historical Jesus: Five Views edited by James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy, 2009 InterVarsity, ISBN 028106329X page 61
- Michael Grant (a classicist) states that "In recent years, 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary." in Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant 2004 ISBN 1898799881 page 200
- Richard A. Burridge states: "There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more." in Jesus Now and Then by Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (Apr 1, 2004) ISBN 0802809774 page 34
- Jesus Remembered by James D. G. Dunn 2003 ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 page 339 states of baptism and crucifixion that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent".
- Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus by William R. Herzog (4 Jul 2005) ISBN 0664225284 pages 1-6
- Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. ISBN 0-06-061662-8. "That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus ... agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact."
- Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell 1998 ISBN 0-664-25703-8 pages 168–173
- Emeritus Professor Philip Davies, of the University of Sheffield, England. http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/dav368029.shtml
- Paul L. Maier "The Date of the Nativity and Chronology of Jesus" in Chronos, kairos, Christos: nativity and chronological studies by Jerry Vardaman, Edwin M. Yamauchi 1989 ISBN 0-931464-50-1 pages 113-129
- The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN 978-0-8054-4365-3 page 114
- . Many scholars agree that Jesus debated with fellow Jews on how best to live according to God's will, engaged in healings and exorcisms, taught in parables, gathered male and female followers in Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and was crucified by Roman soldiers during the governorship of Pontius Pilate" The Historical Jesus in Context edited by Amy-Jill Levine et al. Princeton University Press ISBN 978-0-691-00992-6 page 4
- Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (InterVarsity Press, 1992), page 442
- The Historical Jesus in Recent Research edited by James D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight 2006 ISBN 1-57506-100-7 page 303
- Who Is Jesus? by John Dominic Crossan, Richard G. Watts 1999 ISBN 0664258425 pages 28-29
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- James Barr, Which language did Jesus speak, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 1970; 53(1) pages 9-29 
- Handbook to exegesis of the New Testament by Stanley E. Porter 1997 ISBN 90-04-09921-2 pages 110-112
- Discovering the language of Jesus by Douglas Hamp 2005 ISBN 1-59751-017-3 page 3-4
- The Cambridge Companion to Jesus by Markus N. A. Bockmuehl 2001 ISBN 0521796784 pages 121-125
- Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research by Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans 1998 ISBN 9004111425 pages 460-470
- Wandersee, J. H. (1992), The historicality of cognition: Implications for science education research. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 29: 423–434. doi: 10.1002/tea.3660290409
- Harre, R., & Moghaddam, F.M. (2006). Historicity, social psychology, and change. In Rockmore, T. & Margolis, J. (Eds.), History, historicity, and science (pp. 94-120). London: Ashgate Publishing Limited., 
- William J. Hamblin, professor of history at Brigham Young University. Two part article on historicity,  and 
- Hall, J. (2007). Historicity and Sociohistorical Research. In W. Outhwaite, & S. Turner (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Social Science Methodology. (pp. 82-102). London, England: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781848607958.n5
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- Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell 1998 ISBN 0-664-25703-8 page 181
- Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey by Craig L. Blomberg 2009 ISBN 0-8054-4482-3 pages 431-436
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- Schreckenberg, Heinz; Kurt Schubert (1992). Jewish Traditions in Early Christian Literature. ISBN 90-232-2653-4.
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- Josephus XX by Louis H. Feldman 1965, ISBN 0674995023 page 496
- Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence ISBN 0-8028-4368-9. page 83
- Flavius Josephus; Maier, Paul L. (December 1995). Josephus, the essential works: a condensation of Jewish antiquities and The Jewish war ISBN 978-0-8254-3260-6 pages 284-285
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- Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000. p 39- 53
- Eddy, Paul; Boyd, Gregory (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition Baker Academic, ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 page 127
- Michael Grant (1977), Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels
- Robert E. Van Voorst Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 page 16 states: "biblical scholars and classical historians regard theories of non-existence of Jesus as effectively refuted"
- James D. G. Dunn "Paul's understanding of the death of Jesus" in Sacrifice and Redemption edited by S. W. Sykes (Dec 3, 2007) Cambridge University Press ISBN 052104460X pages 35-36 states that the theories of non-existence of Jesus are "a thoroughly dead thesis"
- Encyclopedia of theology: a concise Sacramentum mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0-86012-006-6 pages 730-731
- Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9-page 15
- Geoffrey Blainey; A Short History of Christianity; Viking; 2011; p.xix-xx
- Jesus of Nazareth by Paul Verhoeven (6 Apr 2010) ISBN 9781583229057 page 39
- The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings by Bart D. Ehrman 1999 ISBN 0-19-512639-4-page 248
- John P. Meier "How do we decide what comes from Jesus" in The Historical Jesus in Recent Research by James D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight 2006 ISBN 1-57506-100-7 pages 126-128
- John P. Meier "How do we decide what comes from Jesus" in The Historical Jesus in Recent Research by James D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight 2006 ISBN 1-57506-100-7 pages 132-136
- Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. ISBN 0-06-061662-8 page 145
- Jesus as a figure in history: how modern historians view the man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell 1998 ISBN 0-664-25703-8 page 47
- Who Is Jesus? by John Dominic Crossan, Richard G. Watts 1999 ISBN 0664258425 pages 31-32
- Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian's Account of His Life and Teaching by Maurice Casey 2010 ISBN 0-567-64517-7 page 35
- The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide by Gerd Theissen, Annette Merz 1998 ISBN 0-8006-3122-6 page 207
- John the Baptist: prophet of purity for a new age by Catherine M. Murphy 2003 ISBN 0-8146-5933-0 pages 29-30
- Fox, Robin Lane (2005). The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian. Basic Books. p. 48. ISBN 978-0465024971.
- "Professor Alana Nobbs". Mq.edu.au. Macquarie University. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
- Dickson, John. "Best of 2012: The irreligious assault on the historicity of Jesus". Abc.net.au. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
- Eisenmann, Robert, (2001), "James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls"
- Butz, Jeffrey (2005), "The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Traditions of Christianity" (Inner Traditions)
- Tabor, James (2012), "Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity" (Simon and Shuster)
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- Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? Harper Collins, 2012, p. 12, "In simpler terms, the historical Jesus did not exist . Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity." further quoting as authoritative the fuller definition provided by Earl Doherty in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. Age of Reason, 2009, pp. vii-viii: it is "the theory that no historical Jesus worthy of the name existed, that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure, that the Gospels are essentially allegory and fiction, and that no single identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition."
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