Monday, April 24, 2006
Jesus: The Web of Historicity
I. Archeological Evidence for the Historicity of Jesus
A. Jesus' Childhood documented
a) Bethlehem manger.
"For the purposes of worship, the Jewish-Chrsitians of Palestine availed themselves not only of the synagogues, but also developed their ritual in certain "sacred and mystic grottoes" as reported by the ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius of Caesarea. In Their worship in this "Lord's house" in Bethlehem which was carried on until the fourth century, they celebrated two of three mysteries par excellence: Mary's Virginity and her bringing forth the Christ child; ...Hadrian profaned the site by planting a wood over the grotto, but this helped to maintain the tradition of the birthplace of Jesus." (Cornfeld, Archaeology of The Bible. New York: Harper and Row, 1976,p.2779-280)......
Sketpics sometimes cliam that Nazerath was not inhabited at the time of Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the very website they sometimes point out actually says the oppossite of what they want it to. See my Pages on the "histority of Nazerath."
B. Luke and Acts
1) The Pool of Bethseda
The pool of Bethseda in Luke where the angle "troubled the waters" for healing, and Jesus healed the lame man and told him to take up his bed and walk, has been discovered beneath the Church of ST. Anne. There is a pool at the bottom of a flight of stairs and an ancient fresco with a picture of an angel troubling the waters. (Bruce, The New Testament Documents,94).This find is also documented in Cornfeld's work Archaeology of The Bible, where he supports the conclusions.
2) Luke's geographical Accuracy.
Harnack and others attest to Lukes accuracy in terms of the ship wreck on Malta, the flavor and historicity of the cities he speaks of the, the time period and all other verifiable elements of this nature. "Sir William Ramsay who devoted many fruitful years to the Archaeology of Asia Minor testifies to Lukes intimate and accurate acquaintance and the Greek East at the time with which his writings deal." (Bruce 90). Ramsay began as a Tubingen liberal, believing Luke to be a second century production with no validity. By the end of his life he was so persuaded of the truth and validity of Luke that he gave up scholarship and became an Evangelist and apologist using arguments based upon the discoveries he had made. (Ibid). It cannot be claimed that he was not an "objective" scholar, as he is one of the grates of the field. Dr. Henry J. Cadbury delivered the Lowell lectures in 1953 and produced a work on the Book of Acts in which he hailed Luke as a first rate historian (Ibid.).
3) Luke's Social Accuity.
Neil thinks that one of the most impressive aspects of Luke as an historian is that he always gets the titles right. Many of the titles of local officials which Luke provides us with were not validated until modern times. "The writer of Acts knew the correct titles and used them with varying precision. In the words of Ramsey: 'the officials with whom Paul and his companions were brought into contact are those who would be there. Every person is found just where he ought to be; proconsuls in senatorial provinces, asiarchs in Ephesus, strategoi in Philippi, politarchs in Thessolonica, magicians and soothsayers everywhere.' The Most remarkable of these titles is Politarch the ruler of the city used in Acts 17:6...previously this word had been completely unknown except for this passage in Acts. It has now been found in 19 inscriptions dating from he second century..." (Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament:1861-1961, London: Oxford University press, 1964, p.143). Neil argues that titles are the hardest things to get right, modern French writers never get English titles right, and this is something that would easily and surely betray an anachronism (147)Historians of the modern day judge Luke a superb historian.
(This makes him a better historian than Tacitus, and if Tacitus getting the title of Pilate wrong is an argument against his veracity, than surely getting them right must mean something)
Skeptics argue that the Apostles could have made up the stories of the Gospel despite the fact that they contain historical information. One,on an internet discussion board, even went to far as to compare the Gospels with Ernest Hemingway novels which have fictional plots set in historical settings. Of course Hemingway lived in the places he wrote about. It would be absurd to think of Luke trooping around ancient Palestine just to be abel to add a few verifiable touches to his account, especially in the days before anyone knew about archaeology. When we consider how many forgeries form this era have no historical evidence, or betray themselves with anachronisms, this argument seems to lack substance.
C. Peter's House
"The house was built in the first century, it became a center of religious activity [in Capernium] already in the second half of the first century Jewish-Chrsitians (or Mimin..as they were called) were numerous and lived continuously in Capernium and kept this tradition alive [the site for the house of Peter--which is mentioned in Mark; their graffiti on the plaster wall of the place of worship testify to their faith in Jesus, the Lord, the Most High, the good, and to their veneration of Peter." (Cornfeld p. 288). The house was taken over by Gentile Christians in the 5th century, and then build a splendid basilica. Now of course the skeptic will say "O, they just chose any old spot and said it was the right place for the pilgrims in the middle ages. But Pilgrims did troop to the Holy land as early as the fifth century, however, as Corfeld shows, most of these sites were already old by the fourth century. The tomb, Peter's house, The Bethlehem Grotto, Mary's house in Nazareth, and many other such sites, were already venerated as far back as the first century. While there is no definitive proof that these sites are the actual locations, the evidence is stronger than it seems at first glance.
D. The empty tomb
Archaeology cannot yet identify with certainty the tomb of Christ, but here is strong evidence supporting the Church of the Holy Seplicur as the original site. The site does date back to the fourth century when it was shown to Constantine. Bruce attests to the evidential support.(New Testament Documents) . More important confirmation comes from Gaalyah Cornfeld in Archaeology of The Bible Book By Book. Cornfeld tells us that from early times Christians reverenced the site, but it was desecrated when the Romans put up a statue of one of their gods. Jewish-Christians could no longer worship at the site for that reason, but they continued the knowledge of it until the time of Constantine when they were able to point him to it as the original site of the resurrection. Constantine put up a basilica over the original shrine, the Anastasis. Excavations by V. Corbo found a gold ring with the representation of the dome of the original shrine Anastasis. This indicates that this site was venerated by Christians in ancient times as the site of the resurrection. (and there is an empty tomb under neither it). (See Archaeology of The Bible: Book by Book, New York: Harper and Row, 1976, 271-2).
Bahat, Dan 1986 "Does the Holy Sepulcher Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?" Biblical Archaeology Review 22.3 (May/June):26-45.
"The fact that it had indeed been a cemetery, and that this memory of Jesus' tomb survived despite Hadrian's burial of it with his enclosure fill, speaks to the authenticity of the site. Moreover, the fact that the Christian community in Jerusalem was never dispersed during this period, and that its succession of bishops was never interrupted supports the accuracy of the preserved memory that Jesus had been crucified and buried here." (Bahat 1986:37.)
All of these sties have a very high probability and while none can be proven conclusively, the evidence is very strong that they were all venerated early on. The conclusion of a major Archaeologist of the NT:
Alviero Niccacci, O.F.M.
Archaeology, New Testament, and Early Christianity
Tomado de la página del "Estudio Bíblico Franciscano"
Archaeological excavations - since about the beginning of this century but particularly since the fifties - helped fill the gap of the first three centuries of Christianity in the Holy Land. Actually, in certain holy places remains of cultic installations have been uncovered that preceded the Byzantine buildings of the IV cent. AD. These remains were markedly different from those familiar to scholars of Christian archaeology. In order to interpret these remains, Christian and Jewish literary sources were consulted. From these we come to know that Christians of Jewish origin lived in Galilee, particularly in Nazareth, Tiberias, Sephoris and Capernaum, and in other parts of the country. Among these Jewish Christians, the relatives of Jesus had a preminent place in the community. It was only natural that these “relatives of Jesus” were deeply attached to the places and the traditions of their own family. It was around these places that Christian life and worship were organized and the first communities came into being. This has been one of the most exciting discoveries.
Sudying the literary sources and the pre-Byzantine remains, a conviction arose that a certain literature had to be taken into consideration that showed a foreign mentality: the so-called apocryphal literature. This literature was of a popular nature but not heterodox. It shows the thinking process and faith of the followers of Jesus (Christians) who though they beleived in him still followed the Jewish thought. This made their way of thinking clearly distinct from the Christians of the period coming from the Western world.
In some cases this literature reflects the mentality and beleifs of the Mother Church of Jerusalem. A literature which contains ancient elements that are in agreement with archaeological data. Over forty years of research have given us a much better picture of the history of the Christian presence in ther Holy Land from the NT times down to the present. The main links in this chronological chain, going back in history from today’s reality, are as follows: today’s church or sanctuary, Crusader, Byzantine, and finally pre-Byzantine periods. It is obvious that those sites where this chronological chain is uninterrupted can be considered as authentic sites and beyond any reasonable doubt.
The excavations at NAZARETH (1955-1960) by Bellarmino Bagatti revealed an uninterrupted sequence of cultic installations around the Grotto of the Annunciation. The present basilica is built on almost the same plan as the Crusader’s. A smaller Byzantine church of the fifth century AD was also found. The main result was the discovery, beneath the Byzantine church, of an early Christian building of a special layout, similar to that of the Jewish Galilean synagogues of the second-third centuries AD. The Nazareth excavations revealed for the first time clear traces of the Jewish-Christian communities that lived and prayed in the same place before the arrival of the Byzantines in the fourth century AD. Similar traces were also found in excavations at Dominus Flevit (The Lord wept) on the slopes of the Mount of Olives (1953-1955) and in Capernaum (1968 on).
At CAPERNAUM a well-preserved village has come to light, with its magnificent synagogue, the living quarters and a special house transformed into a place of worship already in the second half of the first century AD. It is called the House of Peter. We will return to Capernaum later on.
The excavations of B. Bagatti at BETHLEHEM (1948-1951) proved that despite important transformations, the grotto of the Nativity and the manger hewn into the rock remained basically the same. There are elements to show that a veneration of the place by the local Christian community existed uninterrupted since the apostolic times. This is proved by the fact that already in the second century AD several tombs were set up in the proximity of the venerated grotto, according to the well-known custom of burying the dead around holy places. In 135 AD emperor Adrian established on the place of the nativity a sacred grove in order to supplant Christian worship on the spot that was very popular. A consequence of this substitution was that the memory of the place was preserved for future generations. Thus emperor Constantine in 333 AD could easily locate the place and then built on it a basilica that has come down to us renewed by emperor Justinian. It is in fact the only Byzantine basilica preserved until today. The grotto of the Nativity presents us with an exegetical problem that we are going to deal with later on.
II. The Absurdity of a fictitious Jesus!
A. The Historical world
1) Early documentation
History is documents. Historians do not usually assume that documents are fake just because they are polemical, or that all the information in them is fictitious. It is absurd to think that Jesus was fiction or legend. It is absurd to think that the Gospel could have spread within the life time of eye witnesses. The accounts were being written by AD 50. Just because the canonical Gospels weren't yet written doesn't mean that the stories in them weren't written.
2) Living participants
The stories were certainly circulating during the time of eye witnesses. Wouldn't it have occurred to some one in Jerusalem, "say why is it that I don't' remember anything about a Pilate, or a Jesus of Nazareth, or even a town called Nazareth. Peter, Paul, James, Philip, all were real people, the stories with them in them circulated during their life times, would it not dawn on them "I don't' remember any of this?" would they not try to put a stop to it?
3) Living Memory of the Masses
Where were the multitudes, where were the throng of recipients of Jesus healing power? Where were those who greeted him when he rode into Jerusalem and the crowd put palm leaves in his path and shouted "Hosanna!"? If these things never happened how could 12 fishermen from the stix possibly convince the multitude of Jerusalem, a might urban center, that they had not only seen but participated in what all of them would have known never happened? And if one thinks well it wasn't written until 70 years latter, no it was written 50 years latter, but it was told orally from day one AD 33 Christ's resurrection. So how could they possibly convince a city that it saw what everyone in the city would know never took place? At the first writing just 20 years latter (AD 50) (see Jesus Puzzle pages) there would still be sufficient eye witnesses left to refute the claims. Such claims at that point would be laughed out of town. But even 70 years latter (actually 40 for Mark) there would still be some eye witnesses left, quite a few in fact since Polycarp lived to 86, one could live at least half that long and a little over. But wouldn't the next generation find it storage that their parents and grandparents never said anything about any such events? Moreover, there would be no basis for proof of such things, no record of witnesses, no empty tomb, no sacred sites.
4) Sacred Sites
Where did all the sacred sites come form? How could they just pick a site and tell people it was the site upon which this event that one remembers happened and expect them all to believe it? Why would they mark it? Why would they tend such sites? All the sacred sites of Christianity marked by tradition can be traced back to the first century, or at least the early second century. This is because people have living memoirie and as the first generation passed away people marked the sites to point out for future posterity, and for sacred veneration. But who would mark a site for an event no one could remember? Who would start going there to worship if there was no tradition anywhere that this was the site?
B. The Hoax
The only way the Christ-Myth notion could work is if it were a hoax. So Peter and 11 friends fabricate this account and start telling it to everyone around them. Wouldn't down on someone that "I never saw you with any Jesus of Nazareth! and say, where' s Nazareth?" Just how would that work? With all the principles still alive and living around the communities in which the stories were spreading. NO one ever saw a Jesus of Nazareth, or his crucifixion, or heard of an empty tomb. But suddenly here are these people proclaiming all the things that everyone would know nerve happened! The whole idea is ludicrous.
Why would they start such a hoax in the first place? What would their motive be? Some thing that it was already a mystery cult form pagan sources. If this is the case than why would the principles create a hoax around it? What would they expect to gain from it? There would be no money in it because they had to work against the odds, face persecution,give up their family and friends, just to establish it. And they did get nothing out of it.
2) Why die for a lie?
We know from Clement's letter that at least Peter died for his faith. In fact Church tradition records that all the Apostles except John died for their faith. Why would anyone die for a hoax that he/she knew to be a lie? Who dies for a lie that he/she helps to create?
C. Why the Resurrection?
Even more ludicrous is the notion that this fictitious Messiah rose form the dead? The Messiah, according to Jewish belief was supposed to raise all the dead of Israel when he returned to establish his Kingdom. But the Jews did not look for a Messiah who would himself raise from the dead. Why would hoaxers risk such an outlandish story, if they could even think of it in the first place, when it was sure to be rejected?
III. The Strength of Jesus' Personality.
C.S. Lewis once argued that Jesus is too dynamic a character to be entirely fictional. The arguments for this can be found on my Page: "How do we know that Jesus is the Son of God." This is not the argument I give there, but the materail presented there also proves this point. He was one of the most profound ehtical teachers, anticipating Kant's Categorical imperative by two millenia. He also had a focuss and concern for people one rarely finds in a figure of greatness. The important point is, no one in Jesus' time had a concept of historical ficiton in a litterary sense. Sure there are stories form that or previous time where people combine real locatoins and events with ficition, but they did not write realistically, they did not have the concept of "court room evidence" or "historical proof." Their criteria for what made historical documentation was much different than ours. To invent a character like Jesus would require a writter of the greatness of Jesus (or at least that of William Faulner or Mark Twain). How absurd to sugges that some ancient unkown Hemingway created the historical novel 2000 years early and it just happend to become the world's dominat religion!
IV. Time line.
With the first writting of the Gospel story in AD 50 (see above) it is clear that the Jesus' story was already set in stone by mid century, just 20 years after the events. This would not be enough time for myth to develop.
William Lane Craig quotes prof. Sherwin-Whtite ("Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Rsurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth 1 (1985): 89-95) "For in order for these stories to be in the main legendary, a very considerable length of time must be available for the evolution and development of the traditions until the historical elements have been supplanted by unhistorical. This factor is typically neglected in New Testament scholarship, as A. N. Sherwin-White points out in Roman Law and Roman Society tn the New Testament. Professor Sherwin-White is not a theologian; he is an eminent historian of Roman and Greek times, roughly contemporaneous with the NT. According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states for these to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be 'unbelievable'; more generations are needed. All NT scholars agree that the gospels were written down and circulated within the first generation, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses."
V.Community As Author: Self Checking Information Dissemination.
A. It has the check of eye-witnesses in the Community.
B. oral tradition was not uncontroled spreading of rurmor a disciplined and ancient method of disseminating teachings.Oral tradition in first-century Judaism was not uncontrolled as was/is often assumed, based on comparisons with non-Jewish models.
From pg. 53-55 in B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.), "Authenticating the Activities of Jesus" (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998):
"...[T]he early form criticism tied the theory of oral transmission to the conjecture that Gospel traditions were mediated like folk traditions, being freely altered and even created ad hoc by various and sundry wandering charismatic jackleg preachers. This view, however, was rooted more in the eighteenth century romanticism of J. G. Herder than in an understanding of the handling of religious tradition in first-century Judaism. As O. Cullmann, B. Gerhardsson, H. Riesenfeld and R. Riesner have demonstrated,  the Judaism of the period treated such traditions very carefully, and the New Testament writers in numerous passages applied to apostolic traditions the same technical terminology found elsewhere in Judaism for 'delivering', 'receiving', 'learning', 'holding', 'keeping', and 'guarding', the traditioned 'teaching'.  In this way they both identified their traditions as 'holy word' and showed their concern for a careful and ordered transmission of it. The word and work of Jesus were an important albeit distinct part of these apostolic traditions."Luke used one of the same technical terms, speaking of eyewitnesses who 'delivered to us' the things contained in his Gospel and about which his patron Theophilus had been instructed. Similarly, the amanuenses or co-worker-secretaries who composed the Gospel of John speak of the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, 'who is witnessing concerning these things and who wrote these things', as an eyewitness and a member of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples. In the same connection it is not insignificant that those to whom Jesus entrusted his teachings are not called 'preachers' but 'pupils' and 'apostles', semi-technical terms for those who represent and mediate the teachings and instructions of their mentor or principal.
------------------ 22. O. Cullmann, "The Tradition," in Cullmann, The Early Church (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956) 55-99; B. Gerhardsson The Origins of the Gospel Traditions (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979); H. Riesenfeld The Gospel Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 1-29; Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer.
23. Rom 6:17; 16:17; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Phil 4:9; Col 2:6-7; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim 3:14; Titus 1:9; 2 John 9-10; Jude 3: Rev 2:13, 24. Cf. Abot 1:1; Philo, The Worse Attacks the Better 65-68. 24. John 19:35; 21:24-25; cf. 13:23; 18:15-16; 19:26-27; 20:1-10; 21:7, 21-23. Cf. J. A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) 298-311. 25. On parallels with other rabbis and their disciples and other Jewish usage cf. Mark 2:18 = Luke 5:33; K.H. Rengstorf TDNT 1 (1964) 412-43;.TDNT 4 (1967) 431-55.Also, there wasn't necessarily a long period of solely oral transmission as has been assumed:"Under the influence of R. Bultmann and M. Dibelius the classical form criticism raised many doubts about the historicity of the Synoptic Gospels, but it was shaped by a number of literary and historical assumptions which themselves are increasingly seen to have a doubtful historical basis. It assumed, first of all, that the Gospel traditions were transmitted for decades exclusively in oral form and began to be fixed in writing only when the early Christian anticipation of a soon end of the world faded. This theory foundered with the discovery in 1947 of the library of the Qumran sect, a group contemporaneous with the ministry of Jesus and the early church which combined intense expectation of the End with prolific writing. Qumran shows that such expectations did not inhibit writing but actually were a spur to it. Also, the widespread literacy in first-century Palestinian Judaism , together with the different language backgrounds of Jesus' followers--some Greek, some Aramaic, some bilingual--would have facilitated the rapid written formulations and transmission of at least some of Jesus' teaching." (p. 53-54)
------------------ 18. Cf. Josephus, Against Apion 2.25 204: The Law "orders that (children) should be taught to read."; cf. idem, Ant. 12.4.9 209; Philo, Embassy to Gaius 115, 210, Further, see R. Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer (WUNT 2.7; Tubingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1981; 4th ed., 1998) 112-15.
19. Jesus had hearers and doubtless some converts from Syria (Matt 4:25), the Decapolis (Matt 4:25; Mark 3:8; 5:20; 7:31), Tyre and Sidon (Mark 3:8; 7:24, 31; Matt 15:21).
N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently.  (p. 112-113)
--------------- 65. For example, see H. Wansbrough (ed.), Jesus and the Oral Gospel Tradition (JSNTSup 64; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), referring to a large amount of earlier work; Bailey, "Informal Controlled Oral Tradition," 34-54. The following discussion depends on these and similar studies, and builds on Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 418-43; and idem, Jesus and the Victory of God, 133-37."Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be story-telling communities. They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories--the same stories, over and over again. Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life--often within a day or so of the original incident taking place. They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told. Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies them even slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms. This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid 'shame' is a powerful motivation."Such cultures do also repeat, and hence transmit, proverbs, and pithy sayings. Indeed, they tend to know far more proverbs than the orally starved modern Western world. But the circulation of such individual sayings is only the tip of the iceberg; the rest is narrative, narrative with embedded dialogue, heard, repeated again and again within minutes, hours and days of the original incident, and fixed in memories the like of which few in the modern Western world can imagine. The storyteller in such a culture has no license to invent or adapt at will. The less important the story, the more the entire community, in a process that is informal but very effective, will keep a close watch on the precise form and wording with which the story is told."And the stories about Jesus were nothing if not important. Even the Jesus Seminar admits that Jesus was an itinerant wonder-worker. Very well. Supposing a woman in a village is suddenly healed after a lengthy illness. Even today, even in a non-oral culture, the story of such an event would quickly spread among friends, neighbors and relatives, acquiring a fixed form within the first two or three retellings and retaining it, other things being equal, thereafter. In a culture where storytelling was and is an art-form, a memorable event such as this, especially if it were also seen as a sign that Israel's God was now at last at work to do what he had always promised, would be told at once in specific ways, told so as to be not just a celebration of a healing but also a celebration of the Kingdom of God. Events and stories of this order are community-forming, and the stories which form communities do not get freely or loosely adapted. One does not disturb the foundations of the house in which one is living."[B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998) p. 113-115.]
The historicity of Jesus is more secure than most figures in the ancient world. We have no birth certificate for Julius Cesser. We have no real proof that Chalemaine existed, but Historians except him as having lived, and there are pure legends about him; they are even modeled after the Arthurian legends. (See Bullfinch, Mythology).
The major historians of the day witness Jesus' existence. While they could have been going merely on what Christians said about him, most of them were good historians who loved truth and believed passionately in documenting their cases. They had access to such documentation, why would they not use it? Joseph's himself is probably the most trustworthy historian of the first century. He records twice that Jesus of Nazareth existed, and there is no reason not to take him at his word. The texts have been emended, but not made up out of whole cloth. The bits that aren't emendations clearly testify to Jesus' existence in history.
The places where the drama unfolded are real and historical. The empty tomb of Christ was marked form the beginning and Christians made sure they kept track of the site. Why would a fictitious legendary character have a solid tomb? Why would it be empty? The principle characters in the story were real people. We know their historicity because we have the writings of those who knew them. While the Patristic writers do make mistakes, and while they don't' leave us a historical record that can fill in all the gaps reliably, they at least do testify to the existence of Jesus! They document their own associations with those who knew Jesus. There is no reason to assume that Jesus was not a real historical person. It would be enough just to take it on Joseph's' word, but the case is far stronger than that. In fact there is probably a stronger case for Jesus existence than for most figures in that time period.