You may have heard the news that a judge in Viterbo, Italy has been given the unenviable task of ruling whether Jesus actually existed. That would be a great example for the Southwest Airlines commercial campaign. Need to get away? Opening arguments began Friday in the case of an Italian priest accused by an atheist of breaking two Italian laws. The Reverend Enrico Righi is the defendant in a case filed by an old schoolmate named Luigi Cascioli (the next class reunion should be fun).
Cascioli filed a criminal complaint in 2002 after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that “Jesus did indeed exist, and that he had been born to a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.” Cascioli claims Righi broke two Italian laws by making this claim. The laws alledgedly broken were the “Abuse of popular belief” or fraudulently deceiving people, and “impersonation” or gaining by attributing a false name to someone.
“This complaint does not wish to contest the freedom of Christians to profess their faith, sanctioned by [article] 19 of the Italian Constitution,” says Cascioli, “but wishes to denounce the abuse that the Catholic Church commits by availing itself of its prestige in order to inculcate – as if being real and historical – facts that are really just inventions.”
His attorney painted a slightly different goal. “The point is not to establish whether Jesus existed or not, but if there is a question of possible fraud,” said Mauro Fonzo, according to the Associated Press. As we say here in Texas, Cascioli and his attorney know that “this dog won’t hunt.” There is almost no chance of winning with the home court advantage of the Catholic Church in a trial just outside of Rome. So what is the point of this whole charade? This is a legal means to an end. Going through these steps will allow them to bring their anti-Jesus case before the European Court of Human Rights.
The whole thing seems like a ploy to sell some books. He always makes sure he includes quotes like this one. “In my book, ‘(Use your own website to promote your book because you ain’t usin’ mine),’ I present proof Jesus did not exist as a historic figure. He (Reverend Righi) must now refute this by showing proof of Christ’s existence,” Cascioli said.
I think that most impartial scholars have little doubt that the historical figure of Jesus existed. In fact, R. Scott Appleby, a professor of church history at the University of Notre Dame said that “there is more evidence of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than there would be for many other historical people who actually existed. Not only did Jesus actually exist, but he actually had some kind of prominence to be mentioned in two or three chronicles.”
Just a couple of examples that Appleby alludes to in his quote. Roman historian Tacitus wrote this in AD 64.
“Nero fastened the guilt . . . on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome. . . .”
Not exactly a flattering portrayal of Christians or of Christ but a clear indication that his existence was real and accepted by Rome. The most influential writings of the Jewish faith also clearly state the existence of a historical Jesus.
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu the Nazarene was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.” Yeshu or Yeshua was the Hebrew pronunciation for Jesus. Early writers sometimes interchanged hanged for crucifixation or hanging on the cross. I am sure I don’t need to tell you that this notation is found in the Tractate Sanhedrin 43b. Who doesn’t know that?
For me the real question is not whether Jesus existed. That seems pretty clear to most. There is a very real question for everyone about who Jesus was and what that means in your life and mine. What the writers of the Talmud called sorcery the followers of Yeshua called miracles. The apostasy that led to the death of Jesus was called the Truth by His followers. Putting Jesus on a mock trial in Italy does not change the fact that every person must answer the question of who Jesus is. Some simply dismiss the question out of hand. Foolishness they scoff. A crutch for weaklings say others. Some struggle and look for empiracle and overwhelming evidence to support a step of faith. I find it fascinating that there is evidence to believe if you are looking for it. And there is evidence not to believe if you are looking for that. Faith ulitmately means you have to step on one side of the line or the other. Everyone of us must answer the question that Peter and the Apostles did.
One day as Jesus was alone, praying, he came over to his disciples and asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead.”
Then he asked them, “Who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah sent from God!”
Peter’s impulsive replies often got him in the disciple doghouse but he hit this one out of the theological park. So when the million dollar question is presented to me here is my strategy.
A) A made up figure
B) A great teacher
C) A crazy man
D) The Messiah sent from God
I am going with D, Regis, the Messiah sent from God. Final Answer.