Eyewitness to Jesus




Eyewitness to Jesus



A Historical Essay

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"May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, be a sure haven for all who devote their lives to the search for wisdom.  May their journey into wisdom, sure and final goal of all true knowing, be freed of every hindrance by the intercession of the one who, in giving birth to the Truth and treasuring it in her heart, has shared it forever with all the world."  (Pope John Paul II , Fides et Ratio, No. 108)




"But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name,

he will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you."



“Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1). (Pope Paul VI, Dei Verbum, No. 19, November 18, 1965)



During the years 1893 to 1901, an Anglican Chaplain by the name of Charles Huleatt conducted his tour of duty as Chaplain of the Luxor Hotel and hospital in Luxor, Egypt.  It was the time of extensive international travel by the established classes of Europe.  The Hotel Luxor was their favorite leisure spot in Egypt; a place to relax after touring in the torrid Egyptian dessert.  Sunday services were held regularly by Chaplain Huleatt and tours were scheduled to allow travelers and vacationers to attend. 


Chaplain Huleatt spent much of his free time in the Luxor market searching for antiquities, especially religious ones.  One day he purchased three bits of papyrus; each about the size of a large postage stamp.  They had ancient Greek inscriptions on both sides. 


Huelatt mailed his find to the University of Oxford for examination.  He was discouraged to learn that the University never examined the papyrus bits, but sent them off to a papyrus expert.  Chaplain Huelatt and his wife and children were transferred by the Anglican Church to Messina, Sicily in 1901.  Thinking that he never accomplished anything substantial in his life, Chaplain Huelatt and his entire family perished in the 1903 earthquake that struck Messina, destroying 98% of its buildings.  The quake hit when the population was bedded-down for the night; burying thousands under collapsed buildings.  The papyrus bits remained shelved at the University of Oxford for nearly 100 years.  Huelatt's letters remained with them.


Enter German papyrologist Carsten Thiede, who, around 1990, was searching for ancient papyrus at Oxford and found Huelatt's bits of papyrus.  He immediately recognized the characters on the papyrus as ancient Greek.  Excited, he examined the bits with a scanning laser microscope to verify the authenticity of every character; excluding a tiny bit of spilled ink as not being punctuation.  Using the characters as a fingerprint, Thiede matched the papyrus writing to ancient Greek manuscripts of St. Matthew's Gospel.  He set out to accurately date Huelatt's papyrus bits, a feat that would take him years.  His findings were not published until 1994, when the London Times broke the story.


Thiede used archeological findings from the Holy Land to date Huelatt's papyrus bits which eventually became known as The Jesus Papyrus.  (Out of respect for the most holy name of Our Lord, we will call the bits the Gospel Papyrus.)  Using character comparison for dating manuscripts is widely accepted as one of the most accurate methods for dating ancient writing.  It is understood that Greek was the language widely used to copy ancient writings during the first century.


I. Massada: 73 A.D.


The first finds that Thiede used were the remnants of Jewish scrolls found from the Roman siege of Massada in 73 A.D.  He found that the Greek inscriptions on these scroll fragments dated the Gospel Papyrus at least as old as the time of the destruction of Massada.


II. Essene Community: 68 A.D.


From there, Thiede proceeded to the ancient ruins of the Essenes, a Judaic community living at Qumran, east of the city of Jerusalem near the Dead Sea.  The Encyclopedia  Britannica dates the Essene community from the 2nd century B.C. to the 1st century A.D.  These dates agree with Hebrew antiquitiy.


Archeological findings from caves at this location include numerous well-preserved leather scrolls that have become known as The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947.  The scrolls were preserved in large sealed clay jars.  The characters on the Gospel Papyrus matched the Greek letters on the Old Testament scrolls at Qumran, dating them as least as old as 68 A.D.; the year assigned by Hebrew antiquity as the year that the Romans ended the existence of the Essene community.


In cave #7 at Qumran was found a broken scroll jar and some papyrus fragments.  Using character comparison, Thiede identified the fragments as from a scroll of St. Mark's Gospel.  The fragments became known as "the Mark fragments".   He found on the "Mark fragments" the Greek character roots to the word "Geneseret" which is another name for the Sea of Galilee.  St. Mark's Gospel is the only place in the Bible that the word "Geneseret" is used.  The character comparison process again confirmed the dating of the Gospel Papyrus as older than 68 A.D..


Interesting speculations:


If the Essenes had not left Jerusalem to found their own community, their scrolls would have been destroyed by the Romans in 73 A.D. when they destroyed and burned Jerusalem and the center of Jewish religious life, Solomon's Temple.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews were slaughtered as they visited the city during religious celebrations.


The multiplicity of scrolls found at Qumran dated at 68 A.D. suggest that a significant number of them were written many years before 68 A.D., as it would have taken years to produce the number of scrolls found.  The same can be said about "the Mark fragments".  This would have reasonably placed many of the scrolls, including the "Mark fragments" as very possibly being written from 50 to 60 A.D.


III. Banias: 62 A.D.


The Gospels note the city of Caesarea Philippi as the location where St. Peter declared Christ's divinity.  Hebrew antiquity notes that the town was renamed Banias in 62 A.D. by the current King Herod.  This fact alone dates Gospel scrolls using the name Caesarea Philippi as older than 62 A.D.


IV. Rome: 58 A.D.


The "Mark fragments" were found at Qumran in a broken scroll jar with the name "ROME" written in Hebrew on it.  This is a confirmation of the widely-accepted theory held by Bible scholars that St. Mark's Gospel was written in Rome.  To have St. Mark produce the original scroll itself in Rome, have it copied and sent to Jerusalem and have it moved to Qumran by the Essenes could reasonably take more than a decade.  This reasonably could date the "Mark fragments" at 58 A.D., ten years before the Essene community was eliminated by the Romans.  St. Mark, in Chapter 8, verse 27 uses the name Caesarea Philippi, which dates his Gospel as written before 62 A.D.


V. The Calendar and the Eyewitness Window


The calendar used for Thiede's dates puts the death of Jesus Christ at 30 A.D.  Most Bible calendars date Jesus' birth at 3 or 4 B.C.  The 3 to 4 year off-set in the life span of Jesus (1 A.D. to 33 A.D.) is due to calculations that will not be disputed.  Bible scholars place a span of 40 years, from 30 to 70 A.D., as to when eyewitnesses to the Resurrected Jesus would have had to have been alive.  


After His Resurrection, the Gospels state that Jesus appeared many times to the eleven apostles over a period of many days.  He last appeared to them at the His Ascension in the book of Acts.  St. Paul wrote from Greece around 60 A.D.   From his letter to the Corinthians he writes:


"And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:  And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.  After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.    (1Cor15:4-8)


 In the above quotation, written near 60 A.D., St. Paul states that many persons who saw the risen Jesus "remain unto this present"---meaning that they were still alive when he wrote First Corinthians.


VI. St. John


In addition to St. Paul's above statement, another well-accepted fact is that St. John the Evangelist, the very young beloved apostle, lived to a very old age; some accounts saying that he was over 100 years old when he died in exile on the Greek island of Patmos.  Also well-accepted is that he wrote the Book of Revelations (Apocalypse) while he was in exile.  This apostle, who was present at the Crucifixion and most certainly spoke with Jesus after His Resurrection, must have written the Gospel of John at a reasonable time after the Ascension of Jesus.  It is utterly unreasonable to say that this man who wrote the Apocalypse never put quill to papyrus to write his own account of Christ's public life---when he had over 70 years in which to do so.


VII. Conclusion


The unavoidable conclusion to this dissertation is that eyewitnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ wrote the Gospels to fulfill the command given to them by the Lord, Himself:


"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."   (Mt28:19-20)                                                                                                                      


(Reference: Eyewitness to Jesus, TLC Video, © Double Exposure Ltd. Productions, www.thevideocompany.com 1-888-846-8555)




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