Myth Vs. Reality
Let’s begin with a more foundational question: What distinguishes myth from reality? How do we know, for example, that Alexander the Great really existed? Supposedly, in 336 b.c., Alexander the Great became king of Macedonia at 20 years of age. A military genius, this handsome, arrogant leader butchered his way through villages, towns, and kingdoms of the Greco-Persian world until he ruled it all. In a short eight years Alexander’s armies had traversed a total of 22,000 miles in his conquests.
It has been said of Alexander that he cried when he ran out of worlds to conquer. (I’m thinking, this is not the person I want to play Monopoly with.)
Before he died at age 32, Alexander reportedly accomplished greater military deeds than anyone in history, not only of the kings who had lived before him, but also of those who were to come later, down to our own time. But today, other than a bunch of cities named Alexandria, a boring film by Oliver Stone, and a few books, his legacy is all but forgotten. In fact, the name Colin Farrell had more drawing power at the box office than Alexander’s.
In spite of the box office flop, historians believe Alexander existed because of three primary reasons:
- written documentation from early historians
- historical impact
- other historical and archaeological evidence
Historical Documents About Jesus
The historicity of Alexander the Great and his military conquests is drawn from five ancient sources, none of whom were eyewitnesses. Although written 400 years after Alexander, Plutarch’s Life of Alexander is the primary account of his life.
Since Plutarch and the other writers were several hundred years removed from the events of Alexander’s life, they based their information on prior accounts. Of the twenty contemporary historical accounts on Alexander, not one survives. Later accounts exist, but each presents a different “Alexander,” with much left to our imagination. But regardless of the time gap of several hundred years, historians are convinced that Alexander was a real man and that the essential details of what we read about his life are true.
Keeping Alexander as a reference point, we’ll note that for Jesus there are both religious and secular historical accounts. But we must ask the question, were they written by reliable and objective historians? Let’s take a brief look.