The Passagini: Italian Sabbath Keepers of the Middle Ages (Part 1 of 2)
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In the eleventh century, the beginning of religious change sprung up in parts of Europe. From this movement emerged several well-known groups such as the Cathari, Albigenses, and Waldenses. Among the lessor known groups from this period were the Passagini (also spelled Passagii, Passagenes, Passaginos, etc.). They were a Sabbath-keeping group which formed in Italy sometime in the mid to late twelfth century. They are the earliest example of a group which held to the concept of sola scriptura. In this two-part series, we will review some of the events leading up to their appearance as well as their beliefs.
Between 1022 and 1056, a few Roman Church councils condemned newly formed groups in France and Italy as heretics. At that time in history, anyone who did not fully adhere to the teachings of the Roman Church was labeled a heretic. Sometimes they were not given a name while at other times they were mislabeled. Some of them were burned at the stake.
Among these councils were the Council of Rheims, which was held in 1049. It excommunicated new heretics who sprung up in France (also called Gaul). No name is specifically ascribed to them. “…et quia novi haeretici in Gallacianis partibus emergant; cos excommunicavit, illis additis…” (Mansi, 19:742; Landon, 2:71-72).
It appeared that the Roman Church was going to take serious action against these groups, but suddenly their quest was put on pause. For the next one-hundred years or more, the Roman Church was mired in corruption and conflict with the renewed Western Roman Empire. This prevented unified action against these non-conformist groups. They grew and developed their own belief system.
As groups coalesced in certain cities and regions, variations of beliefs developed (likely due to local influences). Some beliefs were held among all these groups. First, they recognized the corruption and moral decay in the Roman Church. Secondly, the average person was disconnected with the institution of the Roman Church; they thought it was not fulfilling its purpose. Third, they wanted a simplified belief system where they could connect to God without the complicated traditions of Rome. This included translations of the Scriptures in their own language.
The Roman Church and Western Roman Empire mended their feud in about 1179. In 1184, the Council of Verona was held. During it, Pope Lucius III presented a letter to Emperor Frederick I (called Barbarossa). The title of the Epistle was “Against the Heretics” and the subtitle was ‘Ad Abolendam’, which in Latin means to abolish. The Pope called upon ‘his dear son’ Frederick and other secular rulers to suppress the spread of group deemed heretical. An excerpt of the letter is found below:
“We, therefore, supported by the power, and presence, of our most dear son Frederic, the illustrious Emperor of the Romans, semper Augustus, with the common consent of our brethren, and of other Patriarchs, Archbishops, and many Princes, who have assembled from various parts of the world, have, with the general sanction of this present decree, risen up against those heretics, to whom divers names have ascribed the profession of various errors, and, by the tenor of this constitution, with apostolical authority, we condemn all heresy, howsoever it may be named…In the first place, therefore we lay under a perpetual anathema, the Cathari, Patarini, and those who falsely call themselves Humiliati, or poor men of Lyons, Passagini, Josepini, and Arnaldistae; and since some, having a form of godliness, but, as the apostle has said, ‘denying- the power of it’, have assumed to themselves the office of preaching—though the same Apostle says, ‘how shall they preach, except they be sent ?’—we include, in the same perpetual anathema, all who shall have presumed to preach, either publicly, or privately, either being forbidden, or not sent, or not having the authority of the Apostolic See (IE the Roman Church), or of the Bishop of the diocese…” (English translation from Maitland, pp 176-180; Latin found in Labbe, vol 10, pp 1737-1742). To read the entire contents of Pope Lucius’ letter, CLICK HERE.
The Pope accused these peoples of ‘having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it’ (2 Tim. 3:1-5). The Roman Church did not recognize people who preached the gospel message unless they had been sent by their representatives!
Later in this letter, the Pope laid the foundation for the inquisition. Those suspected to be part of these groups would be turned over to Roman Church authorities, such as Bishops, for examination. Those who denied the charges and then were later found to be guilty were immediately turned over to secular judges for punishment. Their goods were confiscated and given to a local congregation which was loyal to Rome.
The decree further called upon all secular rulers to help the cause by seeking out the aforesaid heretics and turning them over to Roman Church authorities. If a ruler did not, then their titles were stripped, their people excommunicated, and lands were taken away from them.
Lucius’ letter shows the absolute control the Roman Church desired to have over every individual. Moreover, it illustrates the lengths to which this institution would go to impose their will on other people groups. This letter became repeated by later popes and served as a foundational part of the inquisition, which would be formally introduced in the thirteenth century.
This decree set a terrible precedent that would influence Europe for centuries to come. Many thousands of innocent people would die just for being different.
The groups condemned were as follows: Cathars, Patarinos, Humiliati, the poor of Lyons (this was another name for the Waldenses), Passaginos, Josephinos, and Arnoldists. Most of these groups started in northern Italy. One word of caution. While it is convenient, we do not want to lump all these groups together. This was a mistake of past some researchers on this subject.Some of these groups held to some beliefs that definitely contradicted each other.
While several of the groups mentioned in “Ad Abolendum” did not have many or any known Sabbath keepers (at that time), there was one group that was known exclusively to keep the Sabbath and other aspects of God’s law. They were called the Passagani (also called the Passagii and Passagenes, Passaginos, etc).
In part two of this series, we will look at their beliefs and what happened to them!
“Perhaps the best known and most quoted passage of Scripture of the entire Bible is John 3:16-17. It reads: “…For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life…For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved….” This passage is so simple, yet so profound, but grossly misunderstood. Most people, particularly Christians, misinterpret this passage to make it relate to people that came into the world after the birth of Jesus Christ. They somehow believe and teach that salvation since Jesus’ first advent is obtained differently than salvation before Jesus came to earth. This is a grave misunderstanding of Holy Writ. It is from this perspective of salvation that most of the conflict and confusion in Christendom, including that of the true Sabbath, arises.
The apostles and members of the early church (the Way) had no such conflict or confusion about the Sabbath or about Christ and His mission. They understood clearly who He was and what His mission was about, i.e. God in the flesh, stooping to save all mankind, before and after His earthly sojourn. Jesus repeatedly pointed to the Old Testament Scriptures to help His followers and His enemies understand who He was and what His mission entailed. Here are two classic examples: “…Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me…” (John 5:39). “…And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…” (Luke 24:27).
But how could Jesus save all humanity when He only appeared on earth some 2,000 years ago? Simply, because He is fully God and fully man. The learned apostle Paul calls it a great mystery (1 Timothy 3:16). The prophet Micah prophesied that He is from everlasting to everlasting: “…But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting…” (Micah 5:2)
In this post, we are sharing the 10 most read Sabbath Sentinel online articles from the calendar year 2021, with a link to each article. Just click on the name of the article to read more about that subject!
This will allow you to go back and review most of our finest content!
Sabbath Meditation #35 – The Testimony of God By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
Exodus 31:18 “And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of the testimony [EDUT], tables of stone, written with the finger of God.”
Psalms 19:7 “The law [TORAT] of the LORD is perfect [complete, whole, sound], converting [Shuv – to turn, return] the soul: the testimony [EDUT] of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple (simple, naïve, foolish).”
Psa 119:138 “Thy testimonies [EDOTEKA] that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful [vemunah].”
When God gave Ten the Words (or what we commonly call the Ten Commandments), on the tables of stone, they were given another name: The Testimony or Testimonies. The Hebrew word translated as testimony is eduth; the plural form is edah. These words mean a testimony or witness of someone or something.
The Ten Commandments are a testimony or witness of God and His character. They provide for us a perspective of how God views the world and people, including how we should honor God and treat others. Below, I have a summary of at least one way that each commandment reflects Him. At the end, we will look more specifically at how the Sabbath testifies of God.
1) “I brought you out of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me.” – He deserves our complete attention/total focus and all our worship because He freed us. No other god could free us or even come close to Him.
2) Commandment against graven images/idols – God wants us to seek Him from within. In turn, this reflects that He wants to know us individually and personally and transform us from the inside out. The God of Israel does not want to know you impersonally through an image/statue.
3) Do not take His name in vain (said another way: do not lift up or bear His name in vain). God does not want His name placed on causes, purposes, and events that do not align with His character.
4) Sabbath – We are going to examine this one in just a moment.
5) Honor your father and mother – God values the importance of the family unit. Children should show respect to those who brought them into this world (they likely will be parents one day too).
6) Do not kill – God values the life of every human being.
7) Do not commit adultery – God honors and values the covenant relationship between a man and a woman.
8) Do not steal – God recognizes and values private property rights and the labor it takes to honestly accumulate it. This means that He wants us to respect the property of others. Moreover, He wants us to recognize ownership and hard work.
9) Do not bear false witness – God values truthfulness and an accurate account of events that we see and experience.
10) Do not covet – God wants us to learn to be content and satisfied with what we have and respect the ownership/hard work of others. Covetousness is an attitude that will lead to destructive behaviors. It will keep us dissatisfied and cause us to harm others and self.
There are many more lessons we learn about God’s character from Ten the Words, but this gives us an overview. What about the Sabbath? What does it testify concerning God’s character?
On the Sabbath, we are reminded that fulfillment in life cannot come merely through material means or through work. In other words, the seventh day is a testimony to how God established other things in life to focus on besides work, such as our relationship with Him and others (family, the fellowship of believers). God wants us to be part of a plan and purpose greater than ourselves or our personal ambitions for life. God does not want us enslaved to our work or the work of others – we must be free every seventh day to learn these lessons about His character.
The Sabbath testifies that there is a fulfillment that comes through rest and necessary a focus on other things in life. One lesson of the Sabbath is that God teaches us to trust in the unseen.
“Visiting Israel for the first time, I discovered modern-day Pharisees living there. Reflecting on all we saw and felt on our tour, I began to consider if we American Christians may also be living like Pharisees.
All around Israel, but especially in Jerusalem, one sees bearded men in long black coats and odd-looking hats. They wear their sideburns in long ringlets. The women, though they don’t stand out so much, always have their heads wrapped. They are Hassidic Jews.
Orthodox Judaism abounds in Israel and affects everyday life, even for a tourist. One of the most noticeable effects is the kosher foods served. Observing the laws of “clean meats,” it was a relief for me to not always be asking, suspiciously “What’s in it?” However, keeping a restaurant’s kosher license means much more, as we discovered.
Because of the scriptural admonition to “not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk,” no dairy products can be served at a meal where any meat might be served. Instead, we had margarine and soy milk and non-dairy frozen sorbets. Only at breakfast were we offered real milk, butter, and cheese along with smoked turkey, fish and eggs but no beef or lamb….”
“Surely someone will speak up on behalf of our children! Acquiescing to a popularist, media-driven agenda is nothing less than dangerous – and possibly fatal.
The definition of marriage and family life is one father, one mother, married for life, providing both emotional and spiritual nurture for their children. Anything else, like homosexuality, paedophilia, adultery, fornication, incest, bestiality and the like are an aberration. In other words, these deviations are plainly sinful and wrong.
Who says so? Why, Jesus, of course! And so do His followers – or at least they should by their example.
When entire countries, supported by their judiciaries and driven by the media, begin “voting in” and incrementing what become sweeping immoral changes, then perhaps we ought to spare a thought, first, for our grandparents who would shudder to think that such immoral antics are undermining the very society they pioneered, and secondly, for our children whose minds and hearts become irreparably damaged because they’ve never known the true love and identity that only a loving father and mother in marriage can provide…”
Antiochus IV: Foreshadowing the Man of Lawlessness
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, the Apostle Paul wrote: “…for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God…” (NIV)
In verse 3, the Greek word translated as lawlessness is anomias, and it means one who transgresses God’s law. Paul described a future time where a leader will appear who mandates lawlessness worldwide. This means that the commandments of God will be outlawed, including the Sabbath. It is prophesied that this man will sit in God’s Temple and proclaim himself to be ‘god’. The rest of the chapter goes on to describe false signs and wonders that will accompany his appearance.
Did you know that a past event foreshadows this future event? It is part of the series of events that compose the Hanukkah story! This occurrence was foretold in the book of Daniel chapter 11, which we will briefly summarize.
Between 331-323 BC, Alexander the Great conquered from Greece all the way to India. His empire even stretched down into Egypt. We have a map of this expansive kingdom below.
After Alexander’s death, his empire was broken up into four separate kingdoms. Of them, only two lasted a long period of time. One of them was called the Seleucid Kingdom; it was based out of Antioch in modern-day Syria. The second one was called the Ptolemy Kingdom; it was based out of Alexandria in modern-day Egypt. In Daniel chapter 11, they are respectively called the Kingdom of the North and Kingdom of the South. We have a map of these two Kingdoms below from the years 175-164 BC.
The Jewish people lived in the land between these two kingdoms. This placed them at the crossroads of interaction between them. The Seleucids and Ptolemies often fought against each other, and the Jewish people were at times pulled into the fray. Such was the case during the reign of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes).
Antiochus IV spent most of his youth as a hostage in Rome because his father lost a war with the Romans. His brother, Seleucus IV, was the rightful ruler of the kingdom. Antiochus was eventually released by the Romans, but his brother was killed not long afterwards. Seizing on the opportunity, he was made king over the Seleucid kingdom in 175 BC. He stole the throne from its rightful heir (which was Seleucus’ son).
This was prophesied in Daniel 11:21: “He will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue” (NIV).
Among the goals of Antiochus IV was to conquer the Ptolemy kingdom. In 170, he nearly succeeded when he forcibly took most of their territory. On his way back to the capital city of Antioch, he stopped in Jerusalem. He robbed God’s Temple of some treasures, including the golden Table of Shewbread.
Two years later, he tried to finish his conquest of the Ptolemies. This second invasion was not successful. The Romans stopped him from proceeding; Antiochus was humiliated. Outraged, he turned his fury towards Jerusalem and the Jewish people.
Antiochus and his army approached Jerusalem in a peaceful manner. Once troops entered the city, they turned on the Jewish people and killed many of them. He then defiled the Temple of God. He had a pagan altar placed on top of God’s Altar of Sacrifice and commanded pagan sacrifices to be made. God foretold these events many years before in the days of Daniel:
“At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart. Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant. His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation” (Daniel 11:29-31, NIV).
Antiochus then turned his attention to assaulting the Jewish people throughout Judea. He forced the Greek religion and culture on them, which is called Hellenization, and banned Biblical practices, including the Sabbath and reading of the Torah. He sent troops across the country to compel the people to sacrifice to idols and eat swine’s flesh. Those who would agree to betray their faith were promised riches and positions of authority. Some people did compromise, but many others did not and were martyred.
The first book of Maccabees is an historical account of these events. We have quoted an excerpt from it below:
“41 Then the king (Antiochus) wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, 42 and that each should give up his customs. 43 All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. 44 And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land. 45 to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, 46 to defile the sanctuary and the priests, 47 to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, 48 and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, 49 so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. 50 And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die… 56 The books of the law which they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. 57 Where the book of the covenant was found in the possession of any one, or if any one adhered to the law, the decree of the king condemned him to death. 58 They kept using violence against Israel, against those found month after month in the cities 59 On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering” (I Maccabees 1:41-50, 56-59, NRSV).
Antiochus promoted a policy of lawlessness. He threatened the people with death for not complying with his decrees. Even those who had the book of the law were condemned to death.
During all these events, Antiochus also proclaimed himself to be a god. The title “Theos Epiphanos” was added to his name, which means “god manifest”. To prove this detail, we have a picture of one of his coins below:
This coin was minted during the time that Antiochus committed these awful atrocities. On the left side, we see the face of Antiochus IV. On the other side Zeus is depicted. He is seated on a throne with a scepter in one hand and the goddess Nike on the other hand. The Greek letters on this side of the coin read as follows:
To the left of Zeus: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY (English: King Antiochus) To the right of Zeus: ΘEOY EΠIΦANOY (English: god Manifest) Below Zeus: NIKEΦOΡOY (English: Bringer of Victory)
Antiochus stood in God’s Temple and declared himself to be god manifest. The Jewish people, led by Mattathias, rebelled against this wicked ruler. Those who joined this revolt were called the Maccabees. After a multi-year struggle, the Jewish people eventually regained control of the Temple. They cleansed it and resumed worshipping the True God. These events form the foundation for the Hanukkah story. Eventually the Jewish people won complete freedom!
The prophetic “man of lawlessness” who is to come will follow a very similar pattern to the past example of Antiochus IV. This historical example reminds us how important it is to hold onto the commandments of God.
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
In this article, we consider whether the New Testament can be trusted as a witness for Jesus’ existence. After all, it is considered the chief primary source for Jesus’ life. Some people wonder: “How can an ancient text, which is almost 2,000 years old, be considered reliable?”
In the first two articles of this series, we looked over the ancient historians that testify to the existence of Jesus and/or his followers (click here to read article 1 and click here to read article 2). To my knowledge, none of them are questioned as to their historical value. These sources are considered reliable. I learned about them in grade school and college; we were taught from these texts. Below, I have listed the approximate dates for the oldest complete manuscripts of these works.
Josephus – 9th or 10th century
Tacitus – 11th century
Pliny the Younger – Late 5th century
Suetonius – 9th through 12th centuries
Lucian – 9th century
The oldest complete manuscript for four out of these five works is about 700 to 900 years after the time in which the author lived. Why is this? From the ninth century onwards, kings and monks engaged in a rigorous campaign to copy older manuscripts of the classical writers, especially as it relates to Roman history. The content from these works has been cross checked with other manuscripts of writers from a similar time. There are also scattered fragments of these works which date earlier. Archaeological findings have been used to corroborate the content. These works have each been critically examined over the centuries. This explains why their content remains to be taught and disseminated in Academia today.
If these texts can be trusted for historical content, though their manuscript history is distant to the events they report, what about the New Testament? The original New Testament describes events that occur mostly in the first century AD. What is the agreed upon date for its oldest complete manuscript?
The oldest complete text is the Codex Sinaiticus (350 AD), which is within 320 years of the life of Jesus. There are also two others that date near it: Codex Vaticanus (fourth century AD), and Codex Alexandrinus (450 AD). Moreover, thousands of fragments or manuscripts of the New Testament that date to the same time and earlier. This includes manuscripts from earlier dates with large portions of the New Testament, such as: Beatty Biblical Papyrus I (which contains the gospels and Acts and dates to the third century), Beatty Biblical Papyrus II (a codex of most of Paul’s letters and dates to the early or mid third century), Papyrus Bodmer II (which includes nearly all of John’s Gospel and dates to before 200 AD), and others that contain significant portions of the New Testament.
Below, we have a picture of papyrus 52, which is considered the earliest known fragment of John’s Gospel. It dates to about 125 AD, and contains John 18:31-33 on one side and John 18:37-38 on the other side.
Another ancient witness of these writings includes the second century writers of Christianity, including Polycarp (a disciple of the early Apostles), Irenaeus (who was a hearer of Polycarp), Justin the Martyr, and other writers who attest to the writings of the first disciples. In about 150 AD, Tatian composed the Diatessaron, which was a compilation of all four gospels into one seamless story structured around the narrative found in the Gospel of John. It was the most widely used gospel narrative in Syria until the fifth century and was used elsewhere. There is one fragment that dates to before the mid-third century and it is quoted and referenced in numerous other early Church writings. Furthermore, the work was translated into other languages over time (some of which have survived into modern times). The details have led to its acceptance as a legitimate writing from the early Church.
Some early church writers mentioned a list of accepted writings from the early disciples. The Muratorian canon is among them. It contains a list of accepted books of the first disciples and dates to the mid to late second century.
We would have even more New Testament manuscripts from earlier times, but warfare, weather, and other factors such as persecution caused older manuscripts to be lost. For instance, the Roman Emperor Diocletian initiated a persecution which lasted approximately 10 years (303-313 AD). During it, the persecutors tried to burn Christian manuscripts. The church historian, Eusebius was a contemporary to these events. He wrote the following account:
“All these things were fulfilled in us, when we saw with our own eyes the houses of prayer thrown down to the very foundations, and the Divine and Sacred Scriptures committed to the flames in the midst of the market-places, and the shepherds of the churches basely hidden here and there, and some of them captured ignominiously, and mocked by their enemies…It was in the nineteenth year of the reign of Diocletian, in the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, when the feast of the Saviour’s passion was near at hand, that royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches be leveled to the ground and the Scriptures be destroyed by fire, and ordering that those who held places of honor be degraded, and that the household servants, if they persisted in the profession of Christianity, be deprived of freedom” (Eusebius, Church History, 8.2.1,4).
Despite this attempt to terminate Christian documents, many fragments of the New Testament survived. This includes the source documents for the codices we described earlier. They were based upon earlier documents which scribes before them had copied from even earlier compilations.
In summation, complete manuscripts of the New Testament date much closer to the events it describes than its other counterparts. Fragments or portions of the text exist to even earlier dates. There are sections of it quoted by numerous early Church writers. All of these details put together adds to its reliability as a document of ancient events, people, and places.
Below, we have listed a summary of approximately 2,589 verses confirmed by the historical and archaeological evidence we have reviewed. Enjoy!
For each entry I list the detail from the evidence and then list the number of verses that mention that piece of evidence. I approximate the total number of verses referenced to be about 2,000 because some subjects overlap and thus a verse might count more than one time. This is a sample and a more thorough study could certainly be done on this subject. Most of the time, the greater context of the verse is not included, which would certain add more verse references.
Jesus [943 verses]: the examples are so numerous that it would take pages to list them all.
Jesus was called Christ [over 200 verses; I have only mentioned a few examples]: Matthew 1:1, 1:16, 1:18, 16:16, 20; Mark 1:1, 8:29,14:61; Luke 2:11, 26, 4:41; John 1:17, 4:42, 6:69; Acts 2:36; Romans 1:6.
Specifically, the phrase “Jesus who is called Christ” [4 verses]: Matthew 1:16, 27:17, 27:22; John 4:25.
Nazareth [29 verses]: Matthew 2:23, 4:13, 21:11, 26:71; Mark 1:9,24, 10:47, 14:67, 16:6, Luke 1:26, 2:4,39,51, 4:16,34, 18:37, 24:19; John 1:45-46, 18:5-7, 19:19; Acts 2:22, 3:6, 4:10, 6:14, 10:38, 22:8, 26:9.
Tiberius Caesar—direct references [1 verse]:Luke 3:1.
Tiberius Caesar—indirect references to him as Caesar [10 verses]: Matthew 22:17, 21; Mark 12:14, 17; Luke 20:22,25, 23:2, John 19:12, 15.
Pilate [54 verses, most of which are contained in passages]: Matthew 27:2-65; Mark 15:1-44; Luke 3:1, 13:1, 23:1-52; John 18:29-38, 19:1-38; Acts 3:13, 4:27, 13:28; I Timothy 6:13.
Jewish authorities made accusations against Jesus [well over 20 verses, some examples mentioned multiple times in a passage]: Matthew 20:18, 21:15,23, 26:3-59, 27:1-41; Mark 11:18, 14:1,10,43-55, 15:1-31; Luke 9:22, 19:47, 22:2-4, 22:52-66, 23:4-20; John 7:32-45, 18:3,35, 19:6-15,21.
Crucifixion [49 verses total, some of which are contained in passages]: Matthew 20:19, 23:34, 26:2, 27:22-44, 28:5; Mark 15:13-32; Lk. 23:21-33, 24:7, 24:26; John 19:6-41; Acts 2:23, 26, 4:10; I Cor. 1:23, 2:2, 2:8; 2 Cor. 13:4; Gal 2:20, 3:1; Heb. 6:6; Rev. 11:8.
Jesus was called wise [4 verses]: Matthew 13:54; Mark 6:2; Luke 2:40, 52.
Jesus was teacher [many verses, but 21 are listed here]: Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 11:1, 21:23, 22:16, 26:55; Mark 4:1, 6:2, 6:6, 34, 12:14, 14:49; Luke 5:17, 11:1, 13:10,22, 20:21, 21:37, 23:5; John 3:2; Acts 1:1.
Jesus and James had an earthly father named Joseph: Matthew 1:16,
Jesus had Jewish and Greek followers [about 60 verse references listed, but more are available. I also included references to Gentile followers after his death]: Matthew 4:25, 8:1,18, 9:8-10, 33-36, 11:7,12:15,21, 13:2, 34-36, 14:14-23, 15:10, 30, 20:29, 21:8-9, 21:11, 46, 22:33, 23:1; Mark 1:34, 2:2-13, 15, 3:7-9, 30-32, 6:31, 55-56, 15:41; Luke 2:32, 7:11; John 2:23, 4:39-41, 7:31, 8:30, 10:42, 11:45, 12:11, 20-25, 42; Acts 2:41, 4:4, 8:7-8, 9:42, 13:43, 14:21, 15:35, 17:12, 18:8, 19:18-19, 21:20, 28:23-31. All of the early followers were Jewish, but some were Gentiles.
Jesus was considered a prophet [14 verses]: Matthew 21:46; Mark 8:28; Luke 1:76, 7:16, 9:8,19, 24:19; John 4:19,44, 6:14, 7:40, 9:17; Acts 3:22-23, 7:37.
Jesus was considered a teacher of Truth [3 verses]: Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21.
The Jesus movement started in Judea [43 verses mention Judaea or Judea]: The gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all confirm this as Jesus taught throughout Judea; see also Acts 1:8.
Jesus performed miracles and did good [many examples exist, but I have listed 29 verses]: Matthew 4:23, 8:7-13,14-15, 9:35, 12:15, 14:14, 15:30; Luke 7:3, 9:42, 13:14, 14:3, 22:51, John 2:11, 23, 3:2, 4:47,54, 5:13, 6:2, 11:47; Acts 2:22, 10:38.
Jesus was worshipped [9 verses]: Matthew 8:2, 9:18, 14:33, 15:25, 20:20, 28:9, 17; Mark, 5:6; Luke 24:52.
Jesus had a brother names James; in Hebrew his name was Jacob [9 verses – we listed both indirect references to Jesus’ brothers and specific references to James]: Matthew 13:55, Mk. 6:3, John 7:5, Acts 1:14, 12:17, 15:13, I Cor. 15:7, Gal. 1:19, Book of James was written by him – see James 1:1.
Jesus’ followers were called Christians [3 verses]: Acts 11:26, 26:28; I Peter 4:16.
Jesus’ disciples prayed to Him and in His name [3 verses]: Acts 1:24; James 5:14; I Peter 3:12.
Christians lived by Christ’s Words [again, many examples, but 27 verses listed]: Matthew 28:16-20, John 13:34-35; I Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1-2; Col. 3:13-16; I Peter 2:21-25; I John 2:1-6, 3:15-16.
Christians considered each other brothers [approx. 245 examples in the New Testament, but we have a sample of 12 verses]: Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:35; Acts 20:32; Romans 1:13, 16:7; I Cor. 1:10-11; Hebrews 3:1; James 1:2; I Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:10; I John 2:7; Rev. 6:11, 22:9.
The first leaders of Christianity were in Judea [Jerusalem was the headquarters for early Christianity; we have 19 verses listed]: Acts 1:4-8, 11:1-2, 11:19-22, 11:26-27, 12:24-25, 15:2, 16:4, Gal. 2:1-2.
Christians met regularly on a fixed day [many examples in the gospels, but 5 specific examples listed here]: Acts 13:13-48, Acts 15:21, Acts 16:11-20, Acts 17:1-4, 18:1-6.
Christians were taught not to curse Christ [1 verse]: I Cor. 12:3.
Christians lived morally upright and shunned evil [at least 538 verses, all referenced]: Romans 6:1-22, 8:1-8, 12:9-21, 13:1-14; I Cor. 3:16-17, 5:1-13, 6:9-20, 10:1-13, chapter 13; Gal. 5:19-26; Eph. 4:17-32, 5:1-20; Phil. 2:12-16; Col. 3:1-17; I Thess. 4:1-12; 2 Thess. 2:11-12; I Tim. 3:1-13, 4:1-13, 5:1-16, 6:3-10; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; Titus 1:5-16; 2:1-14, 3:1-8; James 1:19-27, 2:1-26, 3:1-11, 4:1-12; I Peter 1:13-22, 2:1-3, 13-17, 3:8-18, 4:1-11; 2 Peter chapter 2, 3:11-13, I john 2:9-17, 3:1-24, 4:7-21, 5:1-5,13-21, Jude 3-22, Rev. chapters 2 and 3.
Christians were taught to shun idols [30 verses]: Acts 15:20, 15:29, 21:25; I Cor. 5:10-11, 6:9, 8:1-10; I Cor. 10:7,14,19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5; I Thess. 1:9; I Peter 4:3; I John 5:21; Rev. 2:14, 20, 21:8, 22:15.
Christians were persecuted and told that they would suffer for the faith [over 40 verses, but sample listed]: Matthew 10:34-38, 24:9-13; Luke 21:16; Acts 5:41, 7:54-60, 8:1, 9:16, 11:19, 13:50, 14:22; Romans 5:3, 8:17-18; Eph. 3:13; Phil. 1:29, 3:10; Col. 1:24; I Thess. 1:6, 2:2, 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:8-12, 2:3-9, 3:11; Hebrews 10:32-34, 13:3; James 5:10; I Peter 1:6-7, 2:19-21, 3:14-17, 4:15-19, 5:9-10; Rev. 2:10.
There were early believers in Rome [several verses]: Acts 28:14-18; Romans 1:1-15 (the entire letter of Romans was written to these believers).
Females had important roles in early Christianity [at least 16 verse references]: Acts 18:2,18, 24-26, 21:9; Romans 16:1-16; I Cor. 16:19; Phil. 4:2-3; Col. 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:19.
Christians believed in immortality [over 36 verses]: Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 10:30; Luke 20:34-36; John 3:15-16, 4:36, 5:36, 6:54, 6:68, 10:28, 11:24-26, 12:25; Acts 13:48, 24:15; Romans 2:7, 5:21, 6:5,22-23; I Cor. 15:20-55; Phil. 3:10-11; I Thess. 4:11-18; I Tim. 6:12,19; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:2, 3:7; I John 1:2, 2:25, 5:11-13, 5:20; Jude 1:21; Hebrews 6:2; Rev. 20:4-5.
Christians believed in giving [there are many references, but 18 specific verses and two whole chapters on this subject, which include 39 verses]: Matthew 6:1-4; Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-34; I Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Cor. chapters 8-9; Phil. 4:15; Eph. 4:28; I Tim. 6:17-19; Heb. 13:16.
Claudius removed Jews from Rome [1 verse]: Acts 18:2.
People of all ranks and ages were Christians [61 total verses, including passages about how the younger and older believers should interact with each other. More verses on this could be included, but this gives us a good sample]: People in royal households (Luke 8:3, Phil. 4:22); Priests (Acts 6:7); Chief Rulers (John 12:42); A Eunuch (Acts 8:26-38); A Weaver (Acts 16:11-15); Chief Women in a city (Acts 17:4); Fishermen (Matthew 4:18-19); Tax Collectors (Matthew 10:3); Ruler of synagogue (Acts 18:8); Erastus, a city chamberlain (Romans 16:23); People from all sorts of backgrounds famous or infamous who repented of their sins joined the early community (see I Cor. 1:26-28). The old and the young were part of this community (Acts 20:9, I Tim. 4:12, 5:1-18, Titus 2:4-6, I Peter 5:5, I John 2:13-14). Entire households joined the faith together (Acts 16:30-34, 18:8, I Cor. 1:16, 2 Tim. 4:19). They early Christian leaders taught in the Temple and in homes (Acts 5:42).
Bibliography Davis, H. Grady , Faherty, Robert L. , Sander, Emilie T. , Sarna, Nahum M. , Stendahl, Krister , Rylaarsdam, J. Coert , Cain, Seymour , Bruce, Frederick Fyvie , Fredericksen, Linwood , Grant, Robert M. and Flusser, David. “biblical literature”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 Feb. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-literature. Accessed 28 November 2021.
Eusebius, Church History, 8.2.1, 4. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890. pp 324-325.
Hurtado, Larry W. “Archaeological Views: Early Christian Dilemma: Codex or Scroll?” Biblical Archaeology Review 44.6 (2018): 54, 56, 66.
Josephus. Jewish Antiquities. Translated by Ralph Marcus, vol. 6, Harvard University Press, 1958, pp vii-ix.
Lucian. The Passing of Peregrinus. Translated by A.M. Harmon, vol. 1, Harvard University Press, 1961. pp ix-xiv.
Mendell, C.W. Tacitus: The Man and His Work. Yale University Press/Oxford University Press, 1957.
Nongbri, Brent. “How Old Are the Oldest Christian Manuscripts?” Biblical Archaeology Review 46.3 (2020): 38–45.
Reynolds, L.D. Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics. Clarendon Press, Oxford (1983). pp 316-322, 406-411.
Rolfe, John C. Suetonius and His Biographies. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (April 1913). pp 206-225.
Tacitus. The Histories translated by Clifford H Moore. The Annals translated by John Jackson, vol. 1, Harvard University Press, 1962. pp xiv-xvi.
In this article, we will examine the archaeological evidence that relates to the life of Jesus. Archaeological evidence includes concrete findings from the time Jesus lived including pottery, coins, or other physical findings. Our focus will be on four main subjects: Pontius Pilate, Crucifixion, Nazareth, and the James Ossuary.
Pontius Pilate The Pilate Stone In June 1961, an inscription was discovered on an expedition at Caesarea Maritima. This was the administrative capital of Judea during the early first century AD. While excavating a theater, an inscription was found on one of the steps. The inscription was written in Latin on a block that is 82 cm high, 68 cm wide, and 20 cm in thickness.
Some of the letters are missing, but a rough transcription is listed below (letters in brackets are either most likely or certainly part of the inscription).
The confirmed translation of the text is “Tiberius, Pontius Pilatus, Praefectus of Judea” (there was no J in Latin). The letter E is the only letter legible on the last line. Some historians and archeologists think it is proper that the word DEDICAVIT, meaning dedicated, would have been included in the original inscription. This word implies that Pilate dedicated the building to Tiberius.
The finding confirms the official title of Pontius Pilate, which was Prefect. This means that he was mainly a military magistrate. In our first article on the historical evidence for Jesus, we examined Tacitus’ account Pilate where he used the term “proconsul.” This term was an anachronism on Tacitus’ part and started to be used during the reign of Claudius (about 44 AD). Tacitus simply used the term that was common in his day rather than the older term Prefect. A picture of the Pilate Stone is found below:
Other findings confirm Pontius Pilate’s name, including coins made during this time and the famous ‘Pilato Ring’. To read more about these findings, download our free booklet: “How Do We Know Jesus Really Lived?”
The Crucifixion In the historical accounts discussed in the last two articles, we learned that Jesus was put to death through a form of execution called crucifixion. This cruel punishment existed for approximately 1,000 years before the time of Christ, so it was already in use by the first century. It was practiced by the Persians and even the Greeks. The Romans utilized it as well. Ancient literature provides many examples of how this method of punishment was carried out. This includes such as they fact that they mostly took place outside of a city.
Until modern times, no archaeological evidence had been found providing specific concrete examples of this execution method. This cannot be surprising since most people who were crucified were criminals or enemies of the state. This means they were buried in the graves of the infamous or poor, which were often in the ground.
In fact, to call for someone to be crucified may have been a common form of cursing. An inscription from the time of Pompeii reads: “May you be nailed to the cross!” Other ancient writings attest to this usage.
In 1968, Vassilios Tzaferis was exploring burial chambers not far from Jerusalem. In the burial chamber were ossuaries (a small box containing the bones of a deceased person). This was a practice typically used by prominent people due to its cost. In Jerusalem they found the remains of a man whose heel had a 4.5 inch iron nail driven through it. A small piece of wood was still attached to the nail. In the 1980s, Joseph Zias and Eliezer Sekeles resumed examination of this finding and provided clarification to it.
The site dates to the first century before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD). This means the man was crucified at a time remarkably close to Jesus’ time. Further analysis brought forth a fuller picture of how he was crucified. The arms of this particular man were tied to the cross rather than nailed to them. The right heel was nailed to the right side of the cross and the left heel nailed to the left side.
The name of the man was also inscribed on the ossuary: “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.” Most people who were crucified would not have been wealthy enough to afford an ossuary. On another ossuary in the same chamber, we learn that one of his family members worked on Herod’s Temple. This family may have been well known in their time.
Crucifixion Inscriptions The revolutionary finding of an actual tomb is incredible evidence to help us understand more about the practice of crucifixion among the Romans in the first century AD. Another source of information on this punishment is found among graffiti depicting someone being crucified. We have two examples from this time.
One is called the Alexamenos graffito. It was found on a wall in Rome. It depicts the backside of a crucified person with the head of a donkey. The cross was a capital T shape. The inscription on it reads “Alexamenos worships god.” Of course, the inscription was intended to mock Alexamenos. The dating ranges from between the late first century and mid-third century. It is also important that the Romans typically thought of the Jewish people and some early Christians as worshipping the head of a donkey (see Josephus, Against Appion, 2.7-8; Tacitus, The Histories, 5.4-5; Tertullian, Apology, 16 and Against the Nations, 1.11, 1.14). This archaeological finding connects historical accounts of the death of Jesus and common Roman thought about Jews and Christians.
A second graffito finding was discovered in Puteoli (Pozzuli), Italy and likely dates to the second century. It shows the backside of a person being crucified. The back of the person has marks on it, which signify the flogging that he took before being put on the cross. Both heels are nailed into the cross in a similar manner to Yehohanan (discussed above). The cross is also a capital T shape.
These examples provide us with more details involved with Jesus’ crucifixion and corroborates with the New Testament account that he was flogged first (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15, Luke 23:22, John 19:1).
Nazareth In the New Testament, Nazareth is mentioned about 29 times. It is described where Jesus was brought up or nourished (Luke 4:16). It must have been a humble little town because some people questioned whether anyone like Jesus could come from such a place (John 1:45-46). Major archaeological breakthroughs have occurred in this small town within the last fifteen years.
In 2009, a first-century courtyard house was discovered by archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre. The initial digs included water sources and burial sites. At that time, archaeologists estimated that about fifty houses or so were in this small village in the first century.
Ken Dark, who has worked the site since 2006, found another first century AD courtyard house near Yardenna’s discovery. In 2020, he released a book with his findings entitled The Sisters of Nazareth-Convent: A Roman-period, Byzantine, and Crusader site in central Nazareth.
Today, the Sisters of Nazareth Convent is situated in central Nazareth. It was built on top of a Byzantine-era church that dates to about the fifth century AD. A cave church was discovered under that church, which dates to the prior century. Near this cave church was found a courtyard house of the first century which was very similar to the one Yardenna found.
The Byzantines were known for building churches near important religious sites. What is fascinating and particularly different about this situation is that the Byzantines only built churches over two houses. This house in Nazareth is one and the other site is the house believed to have belonged to the Apostle Peter.
This courtyard house was carved out of rock and the work had to be done by someone who was skilled at stone working. Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, is described as a carpenter. However, the Greek word is tekton (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55). In ancient times, it referred to a person skilled in several areas including stone working. A Jewish burial site was found nearby, but it was separated from the house by some quarrying. This means that the house was abandoned or in disuse by the time the burial site was utilized. Jewish people do not inhabit areas this close to burial sites.
Limestone vessels were used, which indicate that it was once inhabited by Jewish people. Other indications, such as cooking pottery, also reflect its former occupation. No pottery from before the early Roman period or after it was found. This indicates that it was not occupied after this time and it was well preserved by those who built on top of the site. Some of the original flooring has survived as well.
The pottery and other findings do not reflect Roman cultural influence in Nazareth. The city of Sepphoris, which is about five miles away, was an administrative center in the Roman period. Communities nearer to Sepphoris embraced Roman culture, which is evident from the findings there.
According to Dark, this particular courtyard house was inhabited starting in the late BC or early first century AD time period. This is consistent with the New Testament accounts of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus dwelling in Nazareth after a time of living in Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23). The findings of Nazareth reflect the simple Jewish life that we would expect from the background of Jesus.
Dark’s findings confirm the occupation of the city by Jewish inhabitants during the time of Jesus. Specifically, the house he found was either the early home of Jesus or a home Jesus would have been familiar with during life.
The James Ossuary The last archaeological finding we will examine in this article is the James Ossuary. In 2002, an ossuary was released to the public with the Aramaic inscription “Ya‘aqob son of Yosef brother of Yeshua” or “James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus.” It was acclaimed at the time as the most important archaeological discovery in history. It was not without controversy.
Not long after the discovery was displayed to the public, the owner of the ossuary, Oded Golan, was accused of forging at least some of this inscription. After a trial of seven years, which involved over 100 witnesses and 12,000 pages of testimony, Oded was found not guilty of forgery.
Not only was he found not guilty, but the trial resulted in experts verifying the authenticity of the object! This included the inscription, which was verified by world-renowned paleographers André Lemaire and Ada Yardeni. A paleographer is someone who examines inscriptions for their authenticity. To date, no paleographer has presented evidence against its’ authenticity. A picture of the ossuary is located below:
Subsequent studies, such as that by Rosenfeld, Feldman, Krumbein found that the mineral content of the ossuary (including the inscription) are authentic (see Bibliography for full reference on this study). The ossuary dates to the first century AD before the destruction of the Temple.
Is it the Ossuary for the brother of Jesus? What are the chances that an inscription which reads “Jacob, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” could belong to more than one person? First of all, we must understand that ossuaries typically did not list any other family members other than the father of the deceased. So, the finding is extremely rare. To date, only one other ossuary has been found which mentioned another family member. This indicates the brother of James was an important person. Was it Jesus?
In 2005, Camil Fuchs released a study which analyzed the statistical chances of how many people in first century (pre-70 AD) Jerusalem could have been named Jacob with a father named Joseph and brother named Jesus. He found to a 95% statistical probability that there were 1.71 males that fit such a description in first century Jerusalem. Josephus mentioned James and that he was put to death by the Jewish authorities in about 62 AD.
Once we compare the location of the ossuary, its age, the rarity of mentioning the brother of the deceased, and the statistical chances of how many people named Jacob had a father named Joseph and brother named Jesus, it appears most likely to belong to the Biblical James.
As we consider the archaeological and historical evidence for the life of Jesus, it becomes very clear that He really lived on earth. The evidence we have reviewed in the last few weeks confirms much of the New Testament record.
Next week, we will look at whether or not we can trust the New Testament record.
“In our time, it’s becoming ever more difficult to know how to be an authentic, Bible-advised, Christian. Just about every aspect of the Christian faith is under attack by someone. Satan is launching broadside after broadside against the Church. As the Church continues to take hits parts of it are crumbling.
As a Christian writer, it’s hard to know what to write about anything. Virtually every word penned is controversial to someone. For example, some will take exception to the idea I presented in the first paragraph above: that Satan is launching broadsides against the Church. Many Christians no longer believe that Satan is a literal being. To them, he is just “the personification of evil” – or a literary symbol or figure of speech.
Writing about Israel is another minefield. Hatred for Israel, or Jews, seems a near-universal phenomenon, even within parts of the Church. To write anything supportive of Israel instantly brings the anti-Semites and Israel-haters out of the woodwork….”