Is anyone in the Bible real?

The point I was making in my previous post is that it’s ridiculous to say a historian has to personally witness the events he’s writing about in order to be credible. I can’t think of a single historian - including Herodotus and Thucydides - who hasn’t written about events that they only knew about from other sources.

I think credibility speaks to the historian, but it only tells us that he is repeating something he heard instead of making it up. By itself such a report doesn’t tell us much about the factuality of the account.

Not too consistent. From Wikipedia:

So more than half of them are consistent anyway.

He was a member of the Pontius family, part of the Equestrian order of Rome. (Equivalent to a knight in later centuries I suppose.) He ruled Judea under the military title of Prefect. His Latin name was Pilatus, Greek name Pilatos.

Physical evidence of his existence and title can be found on the Pilate Stone:

Anything in the past is indeterminate. The farther back you go, an the less prominent at the time, the less likely there is a lot of documentation or other mention of the person. As a result, it comes down to “preponderance of evidence”.

Josephus is significant, because he wrote not too long after the events, he mentions both Jesus and John the Baptist. he had no axe to grind - wasn’t either Christian or strongly anti-Christian. The rest of his writing indicates an intent to be accurate, not repeat fanciful fiction. His output seems to be intact, except for some much later additions about Jesus inserted by Christian editors.
He mentions “…and Greeks…” Which indicates in keeping with the adventures of Paul/Saul, that the area around the Asia minor coast was being proselytized big-time.

So that’s the situation with deciphering history. You get these tantalizing glimpses and try to infer what you can. But even more recent, documented history is an ongoing debate about what really happened. If you want to see a really interesting application of this process, read the book “Zealot” which tries to infer what it can about the life and times of one Jesus ben Joseph from absolutely minimal data.

It brings to mind this recent thread:

That thread is talking about things that have happened over the last 60 years, with today’s technology and ability to record/communicate news and facts. And we still have confusion, propaganda, misinformation, and so on.

Of course you can’t be certain of things written thousands of years ago about people and events, information usually acquired by word-of-mouth and written down then translated and re-translated repeatedly, and no interpreted without being able to put things in proper context anymore. What can you expect?

So is most of Roman History then, Livy’s history of Rome went back to the founding.
Tacitus ; c. AD 56 – AD 117, wrote about the Emperors from AD 14 to AD 70. He only lived during the last parts.

Most great Historians today write about stuff that occurred before they lived, or even if they lived, rarely did they experience everything first hand.

Anyway, Josephus wrote about the illegal execution of James, the Brother of Jesus, and Josephus was there then, and the senior Officer and Agent of the Sanhedrin. He may well have actually witnessed it. So, James, who was commonly and popularly knows as the Brother of Jesus (called Christ) is historical.

OT? We have: *First Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 12 tell of Pharaoh Shishak’s conquest of Judah in the fifth year of the reign of King Rehoboam, This victory is also commemorated in hieroglyphic wall carvings on the Temple of Amon at Thebes.

Second Kings 3 reports that Mesha, the king of Moab, rebelled against the king of Israel following the death of Ahab. A three-foot stone slab, also called the Mesha Stele, confirms the revolt by claiming triumph over Ahab’s family, c. 850 BC, and that Israel had “perished forever.”

In 2 Kings 9–10, Jehu is mentioned as King of Israel (841–814 BC). That the growing power of Assyria was already encroaching on the northern kings prior to their ultimate conquest in 722 BC is demonstrated by a six-and-a-half-foot black obelisk discovered in the ruins of the palace at Nimrud in 1846. On it, Jehu is shown kneeling before Shalmaneser III and offering tribute to the Assyrian king, the only relief we have to date of a Hebrew monarch.*

King Uzziah ruled from 792 to 740 BC, a contemporary of Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. L…When Uzziah died, he was interred in a “field of burial that belonged to the kings.” His stone burial plaque has been discovered on the Mount of Olives, and it reads: “Here, the bones of Uzziah, King of Judah, were brought. Do not open.”

Right. If you are looking for Paul’s actual inmate record sheet, like the one that would have been kept in the Warden’s office or something, you are probably not going to find that.

Those sort of very specific records are surprisingly rare. This is not actually that surprising. How many World War 1 pay stubs are still sitting around in places that are known and accessible to historians and archaeologists? Sure, there are a few, but you wouldn’t stand a reasonable chance of locating even 10% of the total number of them that were produced during the war. Now, imagine you wanted to find the December 1916 paystub of Corporal Frank McDougal. Could you do it? Does the fact that you can’t find it mean that there is therefore no evidence that Frank McDougal fought in the war or perhaps even existed? Perhaps you can locate his army discharge papers and Meritorious Service medal and conclude that he probably did exist, even though his January paystub is mysteriously “missing”.

John is also attested to by the Mandaean Ginza Rba (though, from my reading of the English translations, it seems relatively clear that the writings are not 1st century).

Most Romans of the time had multiple names. Typically, you’d have one given name, two family names of different levels of specificity, and maybe one or more cognomens, which were basically semi-official nicknames or psuedonyms. For example, Gaius Julius Caesar was named Gaius by his parents, and was from the Julius branch of the Caesar family. His nephew and successor Octavius (literally “eighth”; some of the given names were rather unimaginative, especially in large families) was also from the Julius branch of the Caesar family, but was more commonly known as Augustus (or as Caesar Augustus, since his predecessor had attached a lot of prestige to the Caesar name).

Rational people do not speak of ‘rumor’ in an agenda-driven effort to deprecate Josephus.

Rational people do not speak of ‘proof’ but, rather, of ‘evidence.’

In the Old Testament, I’d guess that most of the people mentioned from the time of King on were likely real. A surprising number of those kings seem to have been documented in other sources, and the histories as given are both oddly detailed and often unflattering. The book of Joshua sounds more “mythical” to me. There may well have been a king David, but I don’t think we have much evidence either way. Judges and Samuel strike me as likely mostly historical, but without much external validation.

By the time you get to Ezra and Nehimiah, we are probably looking at the works of the redactors themselves, and while they probably existed, I wouldn’t trust much of what they say about themselves, as they seem motivated to “sell” their version of the Bible.

The books of the prophets were written by someone, and there’s no particular reason to assume the names were made up. Some of what they say about their own lives is probably exaggerated.

The new testament has been pretty well covered already in this thread. I would just add that I think it reasonable to assume that the four gospel writers were actual contemporary people, too, even if they aren’t quite as well documented as Paul. But, you know, SOMEONE pulled each of those texts together.

Since Caesar was an incredibly important and well-known figure in his time, I think it is fair to assume that if all the works written within human memory of his death say he was assassinated, the odds are he was assassinated. I wouldn’t trust the number of times he was stabbed, personally. I probably would trust the date, as that would have mattered to a lot of people in a lot of ways, and was probably well-documented in contemporary sources that the people you mention could have relied on.

My “History of the Bible” professor gave an interesting comparison. At the time, there was a tree in a park in Cambridge Mass. that said, “under this tree, George Washington addressed the troops on such-and-so a date.” Now, when he told us this, the tree over the plaque was obviously not old enough to have co-existed with George Washington. So what does it tell us? Obviously, it is not completely true. And there isn’t any other evidence that Washington addressed the troops at that time and place, either. On the other hand, the existence of the plaque is rather strong evidence that a military general named Washington existed, and that people cared about him and wanted their location to be associated with him.

So I think you need to read ancient texts the same way. They can contain a lot of truth without being completely true. Josephus was mostly accurate, but reported a lot of stuff he didn’t personally know. Josephus’s mention of Jesus is, in my opinion, strong evidence that the Christians were an important presence by the time of Josephus, and that at that time, they spoke about their founder, Jesus of Nazarus. It’s not conclusive proof that Jesus existed when the Christians claimed he existed, but it is evidence supporting it.

We know (though a lot of sources) that Jerusalem was full of self-appointed messiahs at the time of Jesus, and that Rome dealt with them as insurgents, and crucified them when they got important enough to notice. So it is not remarkable that the crucifixion of Jesus didn’t leave a lot of explicit evidence outside the writings of his followers. Given the expected amount of evidence, and the actual evidence, it seems more likely than not that Jesus existed. Again, SOMETHING prompted the early Christians to write all those texts, and the parsimonious explanation is that the founder they wrote about existed.

I have no idea what you are talking about.

I think you mean Caesar branch of the Julius family. Caesar was an hereditary cognomen.

History isn’t a legal case and it’s also not science. Archaeology can give us unimpeachable facts about certain physical realities from the past, but it will leave a lot of gaps that can only be filled in by a study of the written chronicles of the past (that being the literal definition of history.) Unfortunately history is intrinsically not dealing in easily proven/disproven physical realities.

There’s a lot of historically accepted stories from the past that are confirmed by multiple historians who all worked at least a generation or two removed from the actual time they chronicled, and for which there is no “contemporary” accounts. It’s very possible that the independent chroniclers are all just repeating the same myths and their words don’t reflect reality.

There’s a lot of ancient world rulers who only exist as a name carved into a tablet, and we know nothing else about them. We accept that they exist because we have evidence the kingdom existed during the time, and we can make an assumption that a monarchical society probably had a singular king, and that if someone bothered to carve a name and a birth/death date that’s a good as label for the real life person who almost definitely existed as a king during that time span. Was the name on the tablet what people called him? Maybe, maybe not. Were his birth and death dates accurately recorded? Maybe, maybe not–we know even a good number of European monarchs from the last 1000 years didn’t have their birth date firmly recorded–there are even American historical figures born in the 19th century whose birth date isn’t known with 100% certainty.

All that being said history has to sometimes be worked on with making logical assumptions based on things we do know. That leaves us with an explanation, that may be reflective of reality, or may not. For Jesus it doesn’t much matter per se that Josephus was repeating “hear say.” It wasn’t hear say that Josephus observed Christianity was a growing religious movement in his area, we know for a fact it was–the growth and spread of Christianity culminates in it being a major world religion today, so it’s not like it didn’t actually exist or that Josephus wouldn’t have known of its existing. There’s no logical reason to assume he lies when he mentions the still present Christian religious movement. It only makes sense he would have actually heard about who started it. Religious movements that splinter off of existing established religions usually do start with one heretical priest or preacher, we’ve seen this many times in history, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that’s what happened with Christianity. It’s not unreasonable to assume that his immediate followers would record some of his teachings and that at least some of those teachings would be accurately preserved for history. It’s not unreasonable to assume they also accumulated the teachings of others who decided to ascribe them to the founder, or that fantastical feats would come to be ascribed to this person that never really happened.

Compare this situation to Babylon, a city that started off small and only of moderate local importance and grew to be the seat of a great empire. Babylon had to have a first ruler, we have no earthly way of knowing who that was, but there had to be a first. We know some of its later rulers pretty well and are pretty sure they existed, but we have no reliable way of knowing who was its first leader (same with Rome–Roman myth claimed it was founded by Romulus and Remus, and maybe two guys really did start a settlement there with that name, but the much more likely scenario is they were completely fabricated figures.) Just like we have unimpeachable evidence of Christianity’s existence going back almost 2000 years, we know that the movement had to start somewhere and had to have early teachers and leaders. Is it possible their names weren’t Jesus or Paul? That their lives were wildly different than what was written in the bible? Sure. But the actual existence of such people isn’t meaningfully in doubt.

Pontius Pilate was a real person. Presumably his wife, whether she did or did not have her dream, was a real person. Cyrenius (mentioned in the beginning of the Nativity account) was a real governor/legate of Syria.

I agree.

Martian Bigfoot wrote this lovely bit of prose:

The same could be said for some delightful items of apparel. In fact, it is probably the corporate mission of Victoria’s Secret®.

The OT has a lot to say about Cyrus the Great–there must be some contemporary images of him, right? Or are you counting him as a ruler of Mesopotamia? Which I guess he was, sort of.

Also, CtG is another actual historical figure who appears in the Bible. Obviously.