Herald: Yes, Jesus is the Messiah

Yes, Jesus is the Messiah

14 Apr 2019 04:58am IST
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14 Apr 2019 04:58am IST
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As Catholics observe Holy Week beginning with Palm Sunday that culminates with the Easter celebration of the Risen Christ, JOSEPH L DEVA gives a legal perspective asserting that Jesus is the Messiah

s the Christians are observing the season of Lent, and subsequently would commemorate the death of Jesus on the Cross and then celebrate His resurrection on Easter Sunday, the pertinent question is: Did these events really happen deserving the importance being accorded to them? In other words, is Jesus really the Messiah, promised, at least, a couple of millennia ago before He was born? Did he really die on the Cross and rose from death on the third day? What facts do we have to prove these claims and will they stand the rigour of rules evidence? And are there any corroborating evidence?

Before presenting the facts to prove these claims and scrutinise them for their accuracy and reliability, the definition of a couple of terms and some rules of evidence need to be presented for this purpose. Thus, ‘evidence’ means and includes all statements made by witnesses in relation to the matter of fact under enquiry is oral evidence; and all documents produced for inspection are called documentary evidence; ‘proof’ means any fact that helps to establish the truth of something.

And the rules of evidence concerned for this purpose are: (1) Indian Evidence Act, Section 59 “All facts, except the contents of documents or electronic records, may be proved by oral evidence.” (2) Section 61 “The contents of document may be proved either by primary of secondary evidence.”

Considering that ‘Genesis’ was passed on orally for over two millennia or more before it is said to have been reduced into writing (along with other four books of the Pentateuch) only between 1250-1230 BC by Moses and they were discovered in 622 BC (meaning that they had been lost somewhere down the line), can the current rules of evidence be applied to these texts? Besides, all the books of the Old Testament that were extant then, “were put into final form (and edited) by priestly hands soon after the time of the Exile” in Babylon after Jerusalem was surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar in 598. 

This question of reliability of ancient texts is addressed by Section 90 of the Evidence Act: “Where any document, purporting or proved to be thirty years old, is produced from any custody which the court in the particular case considers proper, the court may presume that the signature and every other part of such document, which purports to be in the handwriting of any particular person, is in that person’s handwriting...”

The object of Section 90 is not to make it too difficult for persons relying upon ancient documents to utilise those documents in proving their case. Thus, the strict conditions of Section 68 vis-à-vis the validity of ancient documents are relaxed in Section 90.

For the sake of information, in the third century BC the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek; over 70 scholars accomplished this task, therefore, it is known as the Septuagint, from a Latin word meaning ‘seventy.’ And Codex Sinaiticus is the text of both the Septuagint and the New Testament and was authored between 350-330 AD.

Again considering the antiquity of these texts and that the writers and editors had no motive other than the desire to pass on the information to future generations, only a devil’s advocate would doubt their authenticity and reliability. This settles the first question.

The next question is: are the oral traditions reliable? In answering this question, one must stop employing the current standard being applied to oral evidence. When writing had not been invented, the only way of transmitting information from generation to generation was through the word of mouth. Secondly, a number of ancient literatures were passed on orally without adulteration before they were reduced into writing. The current generation is sceptical of the reliability of the oral traditions due to the modern media mind set.

Having settled the question of the reliability of oral tradition, let’s move on to the evidence that Jesus is the foretold Messiah. As a matter of evidence, scholars say that there are some 456 separate Old Testament passages referring to the Messiah or to messianic times; and I have figured out 50 prophecies. Each one of them has been fulfilled in the New Testament by Jesus. Here are few: Gen 3:15, Job 19:23-27 and Psalms 16:9-11 & 118:17-18 refer to the resurrection of Jesus and are fulfilled in Mathew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24: 1-12 and John 20:1-10; Isaiah 7:14 - a virgin will give birth, and he will be called Immanuel fulfilled in Luke 1:35; Micah 5:2 - Christ will be born in Bethlehem is fulfilled in Matthew 2:4-6; Isaiah 40:3-4 Messiah would be preceded by a forerunner fulfilled in John 1:23; Zechariah 11:12–13 - Jesus will be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver is fulfilled in Matthew 27:6-10; Psalm 22:16 - they would pierce Christ’s hands and feet is fulfilled in John 19:36-37; Psalm 22:18 they would cast lots for Jesus’ clothing is fulfilled in John 19:23-24; Zechariah 9:9 - Jerusalem will rejoice as the Messiah comes to her upon a donkey is fulfilled in Matthew 21:8-10 and Chapter 53 of Isaiah is fulfilled from the time Jesus was arrested to the time He was crucified. It is to be noted that the fulfilment of prophecies validates them.

Now, some quacks have been going around spreading falsehood that it was not Jesus who was crucified on the Cross but someone by the same name. This is absolutely falsehood. A careful examination of the New Testament passages reveals that at least a thousand people should have witnessed the events from the time Jesus was betrayed by Judas to His crucifixion, which was carried out by a meticulous band of executioners – the Roman soldiers who prided in killing – under the careful supervision of the Jewish Sanhedrin. 

As for surviving crucifixion, a large number of scholars have concluded that the chances of surviving flogging and crucifixion are extremely bleak.

The death and resurrection of Jesus are real events recorded by eyewitnesses within 40-50 years after the Ascension of Jesus. Though St Mark and St Luke were not the eyewitnesses, they had plenty of contacts with a number of eyewitnesses. Early tradition also reports that St Mark’s Gospel relies heavily on Peter’s eyewitness accounts.

In fact, St Luke writes in his Gospel 1:3-4: “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account (of the life of Jesus)”. St Luke also cites oral tradition stemming from eyewitnesses (Lk 1:2). 

Joseph of Arimathea, who laid Jesus in his own tomb, is one person Luke most certainly have spoken to when he “carefully investigated everything” that he has recorded. In the Acts 24:27, St Luke says that he spent up to two years with St Paul in Judea. Further, from the Acts, it can be deduced that St Luke could have spent around 10-15 years in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, during which time he also should have spoken to the inner circle of Jesus. 

Further proof of the resurrection is found in first Corinthians 15:4-8, wherein St Paul writes, “Christ...was raised to life on the third day... that he appeared first to Cephas (St Peter) and secondly to the Twelve. Next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles; and last of all he appeared to me too...” Essentially, what St Paul says here is: “If you don’t believe me, then, you can ask the 500 people who are still alive.”

There is another conspiracy theory spread by the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin after Jesus rose from death that the disciples were falsely claiming that Jesus has risen from the dead, after stealing and hiding his body. Considering that the tomb was guarded by soldiers who knew that if they allowed a prisoner to escape, even if he is an insignificant one, their lives would be forfeited. And Jesus being a high profile ‘rebel leader’ in the eyes of the Jewish Sanhedrin (and also of the Romans), the soldiers would have taken extra caution to guard his tomb. But John 20:1-18 completely demolishes this conspiracy theory by recording what Mary Magdalene witnessed. 

Above all, Jesus himself has categorically stated that he is the Messiah – a claim made by no one before and after him. To be fair, two persons did make such a claim – in AD 132, in the reign of Hadrian, a Zealot named Simon Bar-Cocheba proclaimed himself a Messiah and stirred a revolt against Rome; but nothing was heard of him after he fell into the hands of the Romans. The second one had put up some drama about him being the Messiah, but after capture by the Turks, he converted to Islam and disappeared into oblivion. 

The evidence presented here is just a fraction of what is there in the Bible and the writings of the Church Fathers -- by the way, one need not over prove something. 

A secular Biblical scholar Isaac Asimov, in his ‘Guide to the Bible’ calls the Acts of the Apostles a straightforward history. The Acts are events starting from Ascension of Jesus (that is, 40 days after His resurrection) and spanning over 34 years since then; while the Gospels are events of the three-year ministry of Jesus, immediately prior to His resurrection. Consequently, if the Acts authored by St Luke is given the certificate of “straightforward history”, there is no reason to deny the same certificate to his Gospel.

Having settled the authenticity and reliability of the oral tradition and the written texts, it is time to address another question: Could Jesus have engineered the events of his life? For persons of ordinary prudence, such a question would sound hilarious. Nevertheless, since this question has been raised, it needs to be addressed; though the questioner may be regarded as a person lacking ordinary prudence. The question of engineering is answered with a series of counter questions: Could Jesus have engineered His own birth? Could He have engineered His flight to Egypt as a baby? Could He have engineered Genesis 3:15 passed on orally since prehistoric times? Could He have engineered any of the prophecies about Him – each one of them was written at least 300 years before His birth? The events of His life are impossible for Jesus to engineer to as an historic and human person. Nevertheless, as God, the Son of God and a member of the Trinity, He did engineer not only the event of His earthly life but also the entire creation. This also goes to show that since birth of life on earth, it is animated by the cosmic spirit.

Now, is there any independent record other than the Biblical accounts to prove that Jesus is a historical person? As pointed out earlier, we need not over prove the historicity of Jesus. Therefore, the proofs presented here are superfluous. 

For the sake of brevity, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his ‘Antiquities of Jews’ (Book 18, Ch 3, paragraph) published in Rome in the year AD 93 writes that “Pilate...had condemned him (Jesus) to the cross.” Second, in his Annals, written in AD 116, in Book 15, Ch 44, Tacitus writes that that Jesus “suffered the extreme penalty...at the hands of ...Pilatus.” Third, in “The Lives of the Twelve Caesars”, Suetonius Tranquillus, at Ch XXV, has the following: “He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus (Christ).” And the fourth reference is by the Roman historian Pliny the Younger, who in a letter written in 110 AD to the Emperor Trajan, requested his assistance in determining the proper punishment for “Christiani” who were causing trouble and would not renounce “Christo.”

Some argue that these four references are unreliable. However, scholars have established their authenticity and reliability. Again, as stated earlier, these four references are totally redundant.

In conclusion, if the same level of scrutiny is applied to others, everyone would fall head over the heels. In contrast, Jesus comes out of this trial triumphantly as the Messiah.
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