“Through the legends about Jesus, we manage to implicitly discern elements about his true existence”

What can we still learn about Jesus, this Jew from Galilee who lived two thousand years ago and became one of the most famous people on the planet? The sources on his adult life, mainly the Gospels, have already been extensively commented on, and we have no text on his youth

“Through the legends about Jesus, we manage to implicitly discern elements about his true existence”

What can we still learn about Jesus, this Jew from Galilee who lived two thousand years ago and became one of the most famous people on the planet? The sources on his adult life, mainly the Gospels, have already been extensively commented on, and we have no text on his youth.

However, according to Pierluigi Piovanelli, holder of the Origins of Christianity chair at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris) and author of The Jesus of Historians. Between truth and legend (PUF, 408 pages, 24 euros), Jesus has not yet revealed all his mysteries to researchers.

Pierluigi Piovanelli: All serious historians agree on the existence of a Jesus of Nazareth, named after this town in Galilee where he grew up. First there is the breadth of the testimonies: the Gospels and the writings of the first Christians, on the one hand, but also a certain number of sources from different horizons, like the Jewish historian Flavius ​​Josephus ( 37-100), the Latin authors Tacitus (58-120) and Suetonius (70-140), or even the Syriac polytheist philosopher Mara bar Sérapion (50-?), who referred to Jesus – as a human being – in their writings, without calling into question its existence.

Then there is the fact that he was born in Galilee – a totally insignificant province – and died on the cross – a shameful death – elements which seem to us too out of step with the expected image of a “messiah” to have been invented.

We have no physical proof, and Jesus is at the center of many legendary stories, written years, even centuries, after his death. But, through the legends, we still manage to discern implicitly some elements about its true existence. Historians, especially those who work on distant periods, operate by hypotheses: they seek the most "economical", weigh the pros and cons, retain the probable and reject the improbable. A whole network of clues makes it more difficult to consider that Jesus did not exist than the reverse.

The German Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768) is considered the pioneer of the first phase, even if he did not dare to publish his writings on Jesus during his lifetime – they were published posthumously in 1778. He These are a few chapters integrated into a work defending a rationalist faith, where he tries to demonstrate that Jesus was a Jewish messianic character, with a political project of restoration of Israel and opposition to the Romans. His disciples, disappointed by his death, continued his fight and invented the resurrection.