I continue here with the re-post of an interview from years ago but of ongoing relevance, about how we can know what we know about Jesus. The interview was with Ben Witherington, a conservative evangelical Christian New Testament scholar, who asked me to respond to a number of questions about my book Did Jesus Exist in light of criticism I received for it (not, for the most part, from committed Christians!).
Q. Sometimes you make a distinction between literary evidence and other sorts of written evidence (e.g. records of trials or tax records), and you place especial stress on the former as a way of answering the question of whether or not Jesus existed. Can you explain why you do this?
A. Yes, there is a clear distinction to be made between literary and documentary evidence. The only reason I place special evidence on the former, when talking about the historical Jesus, is that there is no documentary evidence for his existence. (For lots and lots of historical issues, documentary evidence is invaluable; but only when it exists for the issue under consideration. If any did exist for Jesus, that would, of course, be highly significant.) We do not have any birth records or land deeds, no reports of his trial (other than in literary sources), and no death warrant related to Jesus – no documents (or inscriptions) of any kind. All we have are later literary references. And so these are the sources that we have to focus on.
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