Last week, Our Weekly spoke to a few theologians about the story of Jesus, explaining away some questions that have possibly run through the minds of curious believers and non-believers.
This week, we spoke to Byron R. McCane Ph.D., a professor of religion at Wofford College and a professional archaeologist. He answered some of the burning questions both sides of the argument have asked in the past, including uncovering the misconception of the Shroud of Turin. Without disclosing his religious affiliation, McCane carefully answered each question according to a historian's research, void of a theological perspective.
Our Weekly: Was Jesus a real man? How do we know?
Byron McCane: The assertion that Jesus did not exist is not taken seriously by scholars either in the field of religion or history. That is an idea that has periodically surfaced in the world of scholarship and been repeatedly been rejected. No serious historian has any doubts that Jesus existed. We have the accounts in the Gospels to start with, but then there are sources from the ancient world, Josephus, Tacitus who mention Jesus. The work of archaeologists, the work we do in digging, helps us see that many of the stories of the Gospels do cohere very closely with what we know was very ordinary, typical life in the first century in Galilee.
OW: Is the story of Jesus like other mythological stories of ancient days? Could they possibly be the same ones?
BM: ... Everyone is unique and no one is unique... Historians and scholars of religion and the Bible and working with Jesus don't talk about uniqueness... of course his story resembles a lot about the ancient world, and of course it's distinctive in many ways. But I don't think any important conclusions can be made about that. Is Jesus different than anybody else? Yes. Is he a lot like everybody else? Yes.
OW: Is the Bible a viable resource for proving Jesus?
BM: Of course it is. But like every source, it has to be used by historians with care and scrutiny. People didn't do it back then and they don't do it today, write things just as a leisure time activity. They wrote things because they cared passionately to write them. Every source has a point of view that has to be taken into account. Sometimes when we get a little bit cynical, historians say when looking at ancient sources, 'Why is this source lying to me.' It's not necessarily that they are all trying to lie to us, but every writer can see certain things and can't see others. Or see certain things and highlight them and sees other things but wants our attention directed away from (it). So we handle the Bible just like we handle every other source. We try to see what the writer was trying to accomplish and we try to sift through those motives and the way the story is told. What we look for is the convergence of multiple lines of different kinds of evidence.