Were the Miracles of Jesus invented by the Disciples/Evangelists?


Posted: June 19, 2002  |   Back to the Miracles Index  |  Summary


 

12. Are there any indications from extra-biblical sources which suggest that (some of) the miracle stories reflect actual historical events?

 

 

 

What we will look for here, are references to Jesus' miraculous works--either generic or specific--and possible historical 'effects' of such a wonder-working figure. We have therefore two methods of approach:

 

The Primary method deals with literary references to Jesus' miracle working:

 

1. General statements about Jesus as being a 'wonder worker' (e.g., magician, healer), and/or summaries or lists of Jesus' activities, which include references to specific miracle categories (e.g., healings, revivifications, etc)

 

2. References or traditions about specific miracle events, which have some claim to independence from the gospel literature.

 

A Secondary method deals with the historical aftermath of a miracle-working Jesus.

 


 

The Primary method: Literary references to Jesus as miracle worker, in extra-biblical literature.

 

 

Extra-biblical literature comprises  Jewish writers (Josephus, the Rabbinics, and other Jewish traditions embedded in non-Jewish lit) and Greco-Roman writers (most of whom were hostile to Christianity at the time they wrote). [We generally exclude from our consideration here "Christian" sources, such as Church Fathers  and NT Apocrypha, except where there is some warrant for believing the data was not derived from the canonical tradition.]

 

 

Jewish authors recognize the miraculous character of some of Jesus' works.

 

1. Josephus.

 

Josephus is the earliest witness we have to the miracle-working of Jesus.

 

·         From Meier:

 

"Finally, there is the independent attestation of Josephus in the authentic core of his Testimonium Flavianum (Ant. 18:3.3 §63-64): "At this time [i.e., the rule of Pontius Pilate as prefect of Judea] there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Gentile origin." As we saw in Volume One there is a careful development of thought in this presentation. Josephus first gives Jesus the generic title of "wise man" (sophos aner). Then he unpacks that title by enumerating what would be its major components in the eyes of a Greco-Roman audience: (1) Jesus worked "startling deeds" (paradoxa), a word Josephus also uses of the miracles worked by the prophet Elisha (Ant. 9.7.6 §182). (2) Jesus taught people who were searching for the truth. (3) Jesus' miraculous deeds and powerful teaching attracted a large following of both Jews and Gentiles. In short, Jesus was a charismatic leader whose special powers of miracle-working and teaching were acknowledged and ratified by his followers. Apart from the idea of attracting many Gentiles during his lifetime, this bundle of assertions gives exactly the same configuration of Jesus' ministry as do the Gospels. Rarely does attestation of Gospel tradition by multiple literary witnesses reach out to encompass so many different sources, including a non-Christian one. But such is the case here, and the attestation includes a reference to Jesus' alleged miracles." [MJ:2:621f]

 

"Thus, Jesus of Nazareth stands out as a relative exception in the Antiquities in that he is a named figure in 1st-century Jewish Palestine to whom Josephus is willing to attribute a number of miraculous deeds (Ant 18.3.3 P63: paradoxon ergon poietes). That Josephus did not transform 1st-century religious figures into miracle-workers in an irresponsible fashion is shown not only by his presentation of the 'sign prophets' but also by the intriguing contrast between Jesus and the Baptist in Book 18 of The Antiquities. The Baptist receives the longer and more laudatory notice (18.5.2 P16-19), but without benefit of miracles, while Jesus is presented as both miracle-worker and teacher. The distinction implied in Josephus is mirrored perfectly in the Four Gospels and given explicit articulation in John 10:40-44." [MJ:2:592f]

 

·         From Stanton:

 

"The comments about Jesus made by Josephus in AD 93 or 94 include a very similar polemical tradition. As we noted in Chapter X, later Christian additions to the text can be removed readily, leaving an authentic neutral or mildly hostile portrait of Jesus drawn by the Jewish historian himself. Josephus refers to Jesus as  'one who did surprising (or unexpected) deeds'. Depending on one's perspective, this could refer negatively to a magician, or positively to a miracle worker. Josephus then adds that Jesus 'brought trouble to' or 'led astray' many Jews…Josephus states that Jesus was a miracle worker/magician who impressed rather gullible people, and led many Jews (and many Greeks) astray. Although the terminology in the terse assessment of Jesus differs from that used in the anti-Christian Jewish polemic quoted by Justin, and in the rabbinic traditions discussed above, there is notable agreement." [GTQ:157f]

 

·         From Van Voorst:

 

"The reconstructed neutral Testimonium also provides evidence about the ministry of Jesus. Josephus calls Jesus 'a wise man.' Note that this characterization is directly linked first to Jesus' miracles, then to his teachings. "He was a worker of amazing deeds" is an explicit characterization of Jesus' ministry as a miracle-worker, with stress on the effect those deeds had on others ("amazing"). Again, there is no detail; what kind of miracles Jesus worked, Josephus does not say. " [HI:JONT:100]

 

 

2. The other, very early non-Biblical Jewish traditions about Jesus can be found in pre-Rabbinic Jewish tradition in Justin Martyr , in the form of accusations of sorcery and magic. These traditions can arguably be traced back to the very controversies of Jesus day:

 

"Once again it will be helpful to start by looking at the later smoke before searching for the fire. My starting point is Justin Martyr's extended debate with his Jewish adversary Trypho, written about AD 160. Justin claims that the healing miracles of Jesus were the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of Isaiah 35:1-7. The miracles of Jesus were intended to elicit recognition of him as Messiah, but many who saw them drew the opposite conclusion: 'they said it was a display of magic art, for they even dared to say that Jesus was a magician and a deceiver of the people (Dialogue 69:7).' From the context there is no doubt that the term 'deceiver' is being used against the background of Deuteronomy 13: 5, with the special sense of a false prophet who leads God's people astray." [GTQ:156]

 

"Trypho's double accusation, 'Jesus was a magician and deceiver of God's people' is also found in two rabbinic passages which we referred to in Chapter X, pp.127-9. In b.Sanh 43a Jesus is referred to as one 'who has practised sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray'; in b. Sanh. 107b we read, 'Jesus the Nazarene practised magic and led Israel astray' These two rabbinic traditions are very difficult to interpret in detail, and even more difficult to date with any confidence. Were it not for the close correspondence with Justin's Dialogue 69:7, it would be tempting to dismiss them as third-century (or even later) Jewish anti-Christian polemic. However, the semi-technical terminology used in Justin Martyr's Greek is almost as close as one could reasonably expect to the Hebrew of the rabbinic traditions, so we are in touch with stock items of abuse which had deep roots." [GTQ:157]

 

"I have argued that the double allegation found in Justin's Dialogue 69. 7 and in the rabbinic traditions quoted above has deep roots. In his own lifetime Jesus was said by some to be a demon-possessed magician. It is probable, but not certain, that he was also said to be a demon-possessed false prophet…The allegations of the contemporary opponents of Jesus confirm that he was seen by many to be a disruptive threat to social and religious order. His claims to act and speak on the basis of a special relationship to God were rightly perceived to be radical. For some they were so radical that they had to be undermined by an alternative explanation of their source: Jesus was a demon-possessed magician and a false prophet." [GTQ:163]

 

 

3. The rabbinic traditions Stanton referred to below are these:

 

·         "On the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favour, he was hanged on the eve of Passover. Ulla retorted: 'Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not a deceiver, concerning whom scripture says (Deuteronomy 13:8), "Neither shalt thou spare neither shalt thou conceal him?" With Yeshu however, it was different, for he was connected with the government'" [b. Sanh 43a]

 

·         "One day he (R. Joshua) was reciting the Shema when Jesus came before him. He intended to receive him and made a sign to him. He (Jesus) thinking it was to repel him, went, put up a brick and worshipped it. 'Repent', said he (R. Joshua) to him. He replied, 'I have thus learned from thee: He who sins and causes others to sin is not afforded the means of repentance. ' And a Master has said, 'Jesus the Nazarene practised magic and led Israel astray'" [b. Sanh. 107b]

 

 

 

The Greco-Roman writers which discuss Jesus' life in any detail are unanimous in treating Him as a miracle worker. However, since many of these authors show close familiarity with the written Gospel literature (and indeed, their main purpose is to discredit that literature), it cannot be assumed that they have access to extra-biblical tradition. All of these authors are writing against traditional Christian claims about Jesus, but it is unclear to what extent they actually believed the miracle stories. They often argue as if they did accept His miracles, but in some cases this could be understood as granting the position of the Christian in order to refute it (implying an initial non-belief). They typically use the entire rhetorical arsenal of antiquity against the gospels, sometimes arguing that the miracle accounts are fictions and sometime arguing that the miracles are real, but due to magic. This inconsistency is what makes this testimony not unequivocal for our study.

 

4. Celsus seems to believe that Jesus did miracles, but consistently ascribes those to magical powers [HI:INTGRP:36,37] :

 

"Celsus recounts few narratives from the gospels. As mentioned above, he portrays Jesus as an adept of Egyptian magic. He accepts the reality of some of the miracle stories, but gives them an alternative explanation (1.68 [121,31-122,16 Koet with Origen's words in brackets):

 

[they have written about] healings, resurrection [Mt 9:23-26 par], a few loaves [Mt 14:13-21 par, Mt 15:32-39 par] feeding many (from which many pieces remained), and whatever other things the miracle-mongering  [he thinks] disciples have told. [And he adds:] Come, let us believe that these things were done by you. [And he straightaway sees things in common with] the works of magicians who promise to do even more marvelous things  and with the things done by those who have studied with the Egyptians - in the middle of the agoras for a few obols they divulge solemn doctrines, drive out demons from people, blow off illnesses, call up the souls of heroes, and exhibit expensive meals, tables, pastries, dishes that do not exist, and make objects move like living things that are not alive, but which seem so as far as appearance goes. [And he says] since they do these things, is it necessary that we think them to be sons of God or should one say that they are practices of evil people possessed by evil spirits?

 

"His unfavorable comparison with the magicians Celsus has seen at work in the marketplaces empowers his conclusion: Since these people do such things, is it necessary that we consider them to be sons of God? Celsus' Jew adopts the tradition of Jesus as a magician that also appears in the later rabbinic literature. J. Lauterbach conjectures that it may go back to the Pharisees' charge that Jesus casts out demons by Beelzebul (Mt 12:24 and 9:34). Celsus himself was more open to the miracles of Hellenistic tradition as in the case of Asclepius.

 

"Celsus regards the argument as foolish, given his theory that Jesus was a wicked magician - any magician on the street could claim to be son of God given what he considers to be the Christians' miserable argument (i.e. Jesus' miracles prove that he is son of God)"

 

 

5. Porphyry seems to not make an explicit statement in this area, but similarly argues that (a) the disciples fabricated stories; yet (b) Jesus was semi-divine as was the miracle-working Pythagoras. This would imply an acceptance of His miracles (since Porphyry seemed to believe in Pythagoras' miracles). See Wilken's chapter on this in [CRST].

 

 

6. Hierocles wrote a piece on Apollonius and made several references to Jesus' miracles:

 

"To create a polemical context for his comparison of Jesus with Apollonius, Hierocles described some of Jesus' miracles as follows: "They go up and down glorifying Jesus and babbling  that he made the blind to see and did some other similar wonders." He chooses not to question the veracity of the accounts of Jesus' miracles of healing. He did describe the authors or sources of the traditions about Jesus as liars, however, so it is possible that he questioned the historicity of certain gospel narratives in the lost sections of his work. Eusebius does not refer to Hierocles' evaluation of Jesus as a magician. Eusebius does comment that Hierocles did not attribute Apollonius' miracles to magic, but attributed them to his "divine and unutterable wisdom". This issue (the source of Apollonius' ability to work wonders) became a major topic in Eusebius' polemic against Apollonius. Lactantius, however, does preserve Hierocles' understanding of Jesus' miracles as the work of a magician: "...Christ was a magician 'because he did miracles' ". Although the statement that "Christ was a magician" may not be a direct quote from Hierocles (in Eusebius' texts he refers to him as "Jesus" and not "Christ"), Lactantius makes it clear that Hierocles shared this judgment of Christ with certain Jewish authors: "He did miracles.' We would have judged  him [Christ] to be a magician, as you judge him now and as the Jews judged him then, if all the prophets had not by the one Spirit predicted that he would do miracles." Celsus' evaluation of Jesus as a magician was probably Hierocles' source for this statement." [HI:INTGRP:265f]

 

7. The emperor Julian (the Apostate) accepted the reality of (some of) the miracles, but downplayed the significance of them:

 

"Julian attacks the synoptic tradition of Jesus' miracles with several different arguments: 'Yet Jesus, who won over the least worthy of you, has been known by name for but little more than three hundred years; and during his lifetime he accomplished nothing worth hearing of, unless anyone thinks that to heal crooked and blind men and to exorcize those who were possessed by evil demons in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany can be classed as a mighty achievement'…Interestingly enough he does not deny the reality of the miracles…Julian does not question the reality of the miracles, but asserts that they were ineffective in changing his audience…Julian's statement about the 'Miracle working and fabrication of the gospels' indicates that he could question the veracity of the gospel narratives, but in general he does not seem to question the belief that Jesus performed miracles." [HI:INTGRP:299,300]

 

 

There doesn't seem to be any disagreement in the early sources over Jesus as miracle-worker; any disagreement was over the source of His miraculous power (i.e., good or bad). The extra-biblical data, then, clearly attests to Jesus' reputation as a miracle worker.

 

………………………………………………

 

Now, when we turn to extra-biblical data about SPECIFIC miracles, we face an interesting problem. Jesus did so many miracles that He is not remembered in connection with single events (like a one-hit-wonder would have been), nor even with a single category of miracle (e.g. Jesus the Healer, Jesus the Exorcist). Summaries of His miracles are often very 'generic'--doing good, mighty works--or seem to be based on NT material (e.g., the comment/list by Julian the Apostate above).

 

The exorcisms, of course, are singled out as a category by anti-Christian writters, since they classically attempt to link Jesus to magic/demonics (both Jewish and GR critics often do this).

 

But two miracles DO stand out in the post-NT literature, one of which has a claim to independent tradition: walking on the water and the feeding of the 5,000.

 

The Walking on the Water (sea) is spoken of in the Christian 'parts' of the OT Pseudepigrapha, but each of these references are simple phrase-level references to the event (e.g., "he will walk the waves" Sybl Or. 1:356; 6:13; cf. 8:273), and there is no reason to suspect that this is independent of the gospel literature.

 

With the Feeding of the 5,000--the ONLY miracle described in ALL FOUR gospels--however, we do seem to have traces of an independent tradition floating around.

 

Bauckham notes:

 

"It should also be noted that there are apocryphal traditions of the feeding of the five thousand (Sib. Or. 1:356-359; 8:275-278) and of the draught of fish (Gos. Pet. 14:60), which may be substantially independent of the canonical Gospels..." [X02:JSOTGP6:234]

 

Bauckham refers the reader to an article by E. Bammel in Jesus and the Politics of His Day [Bammel and C.F.D. Moule, eds; Cambridge:1984], page 218:

 

"The story of the Feeding has a firm place in the apocryphal and even in the Jewish tradition. The occasion for the reference to it is normally a summary of the life of Jesus. It is certainly seen as one of the distinctive features, although less frequently mentioned than the walking on the water. Both features are, however, introduced as elaborations of the scheme of Matthew 11. It may be due to this that in the Syriac Acts of John we have a combination where the healings of Matthew 14/Luke 9 are interpreted as performed vis-à-vis sick, lepers, lame and blind, and this is followed immediately by the orders given by Jesus for the Feeding. The miracle is mentioned in Or. Sib. 1-356ff as the climax" of Jesus' messianic deeds, and the form in which it is enacted is not based on the Gospel reports. It is the cardinal event, belief in which is decisive for salvation and condemnation in the great scene of Sur. 5 of the Koran. The Feeding is described as the banquet table sent down from heaven, as a miracle that proves that Allah is the best guardian and confounds those unwilling to believe. This again is a form which is not directly dependent on the Gospel reports."

 

Bammel's position that the forms in the Sibylline Oracles and in the Qur'an are independent of the gospel (literary) stories is based on their divergence of details:

 

·         The Sibylline Oracles manifests two divergences: "Two points where it is different: only one fish is served (the same in VIII. 275) and the remainder is described as destined eis parthenon hagnan." (op. cit. note 52).

·         Islamic tradition differs also in a detail: "Islamic tradition has it that 1,300 persons were healed at the event." (op. cit., note 54).

 

On the Sura 5 passage, Parrinder notes:

 

"Some of the commentators and later versions, however, seemed to assimilate this narrative to the Feeding of the Five Thousand and this has affected Islamic tradition. Baidawi said that it was narrated how a red table of food (sufrah) was sent down upon two clouds, as the disciples watched, until it was right in their midst. There was cooked fish without scales and fins and very greasy. Salt was at the head and vinegar at the tail and around all kinds of herbs except leeks. There were also five loaves. This garnishing of the fish may be purely imaginary, but it is tempting to see in it a reference to the various herbs used in the Jewish Passover seder. In the oldest Coptic church in Egypt, Abu Sarga or St. Sergius in Cairo, are ancient paintings of the Last Supper showing vegetables on the table as well as loaves of bread and bottles of wine.

 

"The five loaves, however, bring us back to the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Baidawi said that Simon asked, 'O Spirit of God, is this the food of this world or the food from heaven?' Jesus replied, 'It is not from hence. God, to whom be praise and honour, has brought it into being by his power.' This may be compared with the Gospel saying of Jesus, 'it was not Moses that gave you the bread out of heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven and giveth life unto the world'. (John 6,32f.) " [WR:JIQ:87]

 

 

We should note that Parrinder's word choice of 'assimilate' is important for our analysis. Assimilation of two traditions requires that the two traditions are largely independent. In  'assimilation', some of the content comes from ONE tradition, and some of the content comes from the OTHER tradition(s).  [Another possible example of 'assimilation' might be how Luke assimilated the story of the revivification of the Widow's son to the Elijah/Elisha traditions. The narrative, historical data is from the actual event, but some of the (optional) descriptive wording may come from the LXX version.]

 

 

This is not a lot of data, but it is nonetheless surprising. This miracle, of course, is the one most likely to be remembered and discussed (due to the size/makeup of the crowd), and therefore the one most likely to generate 'un-official' or 'un-controlled' tradition/memory streams. With both Islamic and Sibylline (2,8) works/traditions being well after the completion of the NT, it is difficult to visualize how these discordant details would have been 'uncorrected' given the early and wide distribution of the NT (as evidenced in the rest of these documents and traditions)--unless an independent tradition was persistent and strong in the place of authorship/redaction of these two non-biblical documents.

 

 

So, where does this leave us?

 

We have seen that all extra-biblical literary sources affirm that Jesus was known to have worked multiple miracles. This affirmation is from neutral sources (i.e., Josephus), hostile Jewish sources (i.e., "Trypho" and the rabbinics), and hostile G-R sources (i.e., Celsus, Porphyry, Hierocles, and Julian). In addition to the wide attestation to Jesus' reputation as a miracle worker, we found at least some extra-biblical evidence to support the historicity of one specific miracle--the Feeding of the 5,000. Thus, the extra-biblical data fairly strongly supports the view of Jesus as presented in the Gospels.

 


 

Our Secondary method deals with the historical aftermath of a miracle-working Jesus, and is less 'rigorous' than the case from extra-biblical literary sources. It is, however, possibly significant, in the context of our earlier findings about the dearth of miracle-workers in pre-Jesus times.

 

The historical aftermath argument runs something like this:

 

For three or four hundred years before Jesus, there were no miracle working human figures in literary history. Thiessen called this "perhaps the most skeptical period" in ancient history. "Odd" events in literature were either sanctioned ones (in mythic past and space) or unsanctioned ones (minor ones, in underground and sporadic magic). Jesus appears in the early first-century, and a literature describing His miraculous works ('sane'  and non-bizarre) appears before mid-century. Within thirty years of Jesus' death, Roman writers manifest awareness of this literature (e.g., Petronius--see mq5.html), and over the next 150 years there suddenly appear miracle-working literary figures of recent past (e.g. Apollonius) or the more remote past (e.g., Pythagoras). Even magic 'takes off', with the largest number of magical finds coming from the 3rd and 4th centuries. And Jewish messianic figures plus-and-minus 50 years of Jesus' ministry can be divided neatly into those 'offering a miracle' (all post-Jesus), and those without a miracle claim (all the pre-Jesus ones). At a trend-level, it would be difficult to avoid the conclusion that the reality of Jesus' miracles created the environment in which miracle-like claims could then (and only then) be taken seriously. This argues strongly for the reality and widespread acceptance of Jesus' reputation as a true miracle-working human.

 

 

Gerd Theissen argues this point specifically:

 

"Conversely, we must consider the responsibility of primitive Christianity for the period's belief in the miraculous. For primitive Christian belief in the miraculous was one of the catalysts of the general belief in the miraculous in late antiquity." [MSECT:276]

 

 

This is, of course, a historical scenario that might be dismissed as 'optimistic historicism' (smile), since it pins large-scale literary and cultural changes on a very specific and historically 'small' cause. Modern historians might find these claims to be too 'ambitious' in today's post-modern (and somewhat 'sociologically correct'…smile) scholarly arena. And if we didn't have very specific cases in which the literary evidence is quite clear, I would myself consider this something worthy only of being a discussion question on a History 101 final exam.

 

But some of the data we have already looked at in earlier pieces (especially in the one on fiction), seems to point strongly toward this conclusion:

 

1. We have seen Bowersock's documentation that Petronius (65AD) and Achilles Tatius (pre-200 AD) were influenced by the Passion Narrative (and by the actual wording of the gospel narratives, cf. 'testament'). [HI:FAHNJ:121-143]. We might cite a summary statement of his: "But in the course of these six chapters the connection between imperial fiction of various kinds and the Gospel narratives has grown ever stronger. The stories of Jesus inspired the polytheists to create a wholly new genre that we might call romantic scripture." [HI:FAHNJ:143]

 

2. The post-Jesus account of resurrection in Apollonius is unique in extra-biblical literature in its "New Testament-like" understanding of resurrection, and has been 'created' by the biblical revivifications. And the 'new emphasis' on resurrection in the Nero-and-later Imperial period is unprecedented as well [HI:FAHNJ:109-111]. We have often noted that Apollonius looks suspiciously like a 'rival Jesus' (and was so used by Hierocles).

 

3. The fact that highly educated skeptics could suddenly accept the miracles of Asclepius (Celsus) and Pythagoras (Porphyry), when there had been no interest in the subject for centuries begs for an explanation based on actual miracle events in recent history. And we have noted earlier that appeals to miracle to 'authenticate' a divine spokesperson only begin around the mid-2nd century AD.

 

4. Literate non-Christian culture in Late Antiquity was consciously an anti-Christian culture: it had to grapple specifically for its own authenticity and survival, over against the now-official Christianity. Its 'fight for its life', of course, had begun much, much earlier, and can be seen in the writings of Philostratus. The entire philosophical climate was changed, due to the Christian message. Wilken can write:

 

"When one observes how much Christians shared with their critics, and how much they learned from them, it is tempting to say that Hellenism laid out the path for Christian thinkers. In fact, one might convincingly argue the reverse. Christianity set a new agenda for philosophers. The distinctive traits of the new religion and the tenacity of Christian apologists in defending their faith opened up new horizons for Greco-Roman culture and breathed new life into the spiritual and intellectual traditions of the ancient world." [CRST:205]

 

5. At the less-literate end of the spectrum, we can document easily a rise in "superstition" in our period. MacMullen: "Over the course of the centuries chosen for examination here, superstition within this meaning certainly increased. The fact is best sensed…in the greater prominence of magic…" [HI:PTRE:70]. And the same increase can be seen in how seriously oracles are taken (note as well that our finest actual cache of such dreams/oracles comes from the 2nd century AD): "The prestige of oracles in the first three centuries CE rises upwards…" [HI:RDGRW:152]

 

 

All the general trends (showing increasing openness to supernatural intervention) seem to begin shortly after the production, distribution, and proclamation of the Christian gospels (c.40-50AD).

 

What emerges from BOTH these general tendencies  AND FROM the specific literary responses to the Christian proclamation and argument is the fact that the literate (e.g., philosophy, romance, apologetic) production of the pagans and the less-literate production (e.g., magical spells, oracle and dream accounts) of the populace were deeply influenced by the gospel literature. The persuasiveness of this gospel literature--with its hope-creating stories of Jesus' miracles and works of beneficent power--created a literary response, which triggered an intellectual response, in the direction of more openness to the supernatural.

 

 

 

This is a staggering change, historically speaking, for an empire-wide, conservatively-oriented culture to undergo in less than a century. It is difficult to advance any other combination of factors (other than the miracle traditions about Jesus being widely known and substantially believed) that could create such change. At the end of the day, apparent experience alters worldview--as Lucian so often complained/satired about--and it almost takes a miracle to convince someone that miracles can occur. In less than 100 years, the Roman Empire became a serious believer that special humans could indeed work miracles on earth (e.g., Apollonius, Pythagoras)--without them being fraudulent magicians and con-artists. The magnitude of this change and the rapidity of its diffusion is best (and probably 'only') explained by the credibility of the gospel miracle accounts.

 

 

 


 Summary:

 

  1. Josephus affirms that Jesus worked miracles.
  2. Early hostile Jewish tradition--in Justin and the Rabbinics--manifest the memory that Jesus did works of a miraculous nature.
  3. The hostile Graeco-Roman writers [Celsus, Porphyry, Hierocles, Julian] accept that some of Jesus' miraculous works actually occurred.
  4. There are two strands of independent, extra-biblical tradition that support the historicity of one specific NT miracle: The Feeding of the 5000.
  5. The general trends and patterns in post-Jesus G-R literature and popular belief are easily explained (and perhaps 'best explained' or 'only explained') by the widespread acceptance by the Roman Empire that a real human in recent history (Jesus) had actually performed credible, 'sane', and non-bizarre miracles.

 

 

Therefore, I conclude that there ARE indications from extra-biblical sources which suggest that (some of) the miracle stories reflect actual historical events.

 

 

Glenn Miller

June 19, 2002


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