Category Archives: New Testament

Extra-Biblical, Non-Christian Confirmation of Jesus

My response to a claim from an email exchange that I didn’t get to address during our conversation.

“There are actually lots of extra biblical non Christian sources that wrote about the life of Jesus and wrote them with in 100-150 years of his life. Historians like Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, Pliny, Trajan, Hadrian, Talmud, Toledoth, and more. What they wrote correlates with the biblical account.”

While I have heard of some of these, a few I’ve never heard of so I just want to go through each and see what claims are made for each. I would like to point out that I don’t think I was ever a mythicist. I see no contradiction is accepting that a preacher called Jesus existed; though, I will make clear that I don’t see any reason to believe the supernatural claims about him. What I know about these sources before this post is that most, if not all, are merely evidence that the Christian sect existed, not that a supernatural, god-man existed.

The first place I went to get information is Wiki, other sources will be linked when used.

After doing the research below, I wonder if those who spout these names, as sources of information that confirm the existence of Jesus, have done the same. A few of these are so sketchy that I wouldn’t use them and would think even a believer could see that they aren’t helpful in their arguments.

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Josephus

A Jewish historian, ~90CE, credited with two mentions of Jesus. Josephus is one of the ones I’ve heard of before but really don’t know what he was supposed to have said.

The first reference in Book 20, a reference to Jesus as the brother of James:

-Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law.

This reference seems okay though it does have some criticism surrounding it.

Critics like to point out that in the same passage Josephus references Jesus Damneus and Jesus son of Gamaliel. Richard Carrier says “who was called Christ” was likely an addition not written by Josephus in the original text. While supporters say it is used to distinguish this Jesus from the other two.

-While the authenticity of some passages in Book 18 of Antiquities of the Jews has been subject to debate, the overwhelming majority of scholars consider the discussion of the death of James in Section 9 of Book 20 to be authentic. –Wiki

I think that by this consensus of people who know better than I, I will agree that this passage is likely talking about the biblical Jesus. That being said, I don’t think there is any reason for me to convert instantly. This is simply a passage that may be used to verify that he actually existed, not the claim that he was more than human, and it was written approximately 60 years after he supposedly died. That seems like plenty of time for stories to spread. Mythicism may be out of the window but post-mortem apotheosis seems more likely.

The second reference, in Book 18, and quite possibly the best a believer could hope for:

-About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.   – Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3

But then there’s this:

-Scholarly opinion varies on the total or partial authenticity of the reference in Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 of the Antiquities, a passage that states that Jesus the Messiah was a wise teacher who was crucified by Pilate, usually called the Testimonium Flavianum. The general scholarly view is that while the Testimonium Flavianum is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it is broadly agreed upon that it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus, which was then subject to Christian expansion/alteration. Although the exact nature and extent of the Christian redaction remains unclear, there is broad consensus as to what the original text of the Testimonium by Josephus would have looked like. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus

The TF contains some obvious Christian glosses that no Jew would have written; such as “he was the Christ” and “he appeared to them alive again the third day.” – http://www.bede.org.uk/Josephus.htm

If there existed that much doubt about this source I would definitely not be using it to back my claim. That criticism even lends credence to the apotheosis hypothesis (that’s fun to say).

-After reading the rest of the text of this passage we find that the Jews were so angry about the stoning of James that they they demanded that King Agrippa fire Ananus. Why would the Jews be angered over the killing of a Christian, since Christians were seen as heathens by the Jews? After the angry Jews get their way, “Jesus” is put in charge, Jesus son of Damneus and not Jesus son of Joseph. It seems as though “who was called Christ” was simply a margin note that got added to the text. The context would suggest that Jesus and James are brothers and after James is killed his brother is made to be high priest. And therefore the passage has nothing to say about any Christians but rather Jewish infighting. –http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Testimonium_Flavian

In the end, I will accept that the writings of Josephus are possibly factual accounts of the existence of a man named Jesus. They can’t be used as anything more than that and I have already admitted that I am not a mythicist. I would agree that most of his information came from Christian sources but I don’t think that is any reason to disregard all of the information.

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Tacitus

A Roman historian, ~100CE, provides an account of the persecution of the early Christians and the crucifixion.

-Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (i.e., Crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus… -Tacitus, Annals

So, he states that a man called Christ, whom a sect of Jews were named after, was crucified by Pilate. But he calls Pilate a procurator, not a prefect. Tacitus would surely know the difference, even if we don’t.

-Thiessen and Merz, while stating that Tacitus provides few details the source of which is unclear, conclude that there was a Jew named Christus who Pilate had executed, and he began a religious movement which was widespread during Nero’s reign.

I think this next quote is relevant to most of the people/references on this list considering the events were so long ago, so poorly documented, and the claim is so extreme.

-In his book Jesus, Charles Guignebert states that “so long as there is that possibility [that Tacitus was simply repeating the story as it was being told], the passage remains quite worthless.” Without more information, which we don’t currently have, the passage proves nothing (it can’t be used as evidence for or against).

But…

-Scholars generally consider Tacitus’ reference to the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilate to be both authentic, and of historical value as an independent Roman source. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus_on_Christ

The IronChariots Wiki gives a list of other objections to the claim of relevance of Tacitus. Many of them lead me to believe that Tacitus was merely documenting what the Christians at the time were saying.

-Given that we are lacking key information, and that the passage itself provides very little detail, a determination about Tacitus’ diligence in investigating it cannot be made. Any statement which assumes he did exercise due diligence (i.e. that what he said was based on fact) is speculative.

My final judgement…Confirmation of a man named Jesus, leader of a set of Jews, but nothing about a deity. Even with just these two sources I am confident that the Christ Myth theory is debunked but I won’t go all the way to say that Jesus was the savior the bible bills him as.

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Suetonius

Roman historian, ~115CE, reported to mention Jesus by name.

-“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome” –Suetonius

This one is pretty short and I’ll just copy/paste the whole of the article from the wiki.

-Elsewhere in the same work (The Lives of the Caesars) Suetonius talks about how “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.” under Nero demonstrating that Suetonius knew the difference between Jews and Christians.

Suetonius wrote in the year 115 CE, so this is far from a contemporary account. He doesn’t cite or list sources and Christianity would have been decently established by this time.

The name in the text is not “Christus” but “Chrestus,” which by no means is the usual designation of Jesus. It was a common name, especially among Roman freedman. (Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares, book 2, letter 8, section 1; “What! Do you suppose that I meant you to send me an account of gladiatorial matches, of postponements of trials, of robberies by Chrestus, and such things as, when I am at Rome, nobody ventures to retail to me?”) Hence, the whole passage may have nothing whatever to do with Christianity.

I don’t think that most of the people who parrot the names of these “extra-biblical, non-Christian sources” have actually looked at them, just as I hadn’t. This is not a good example to use in favor of Jesus.

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Thallus

If Suetonius was a sketchy source, this one is worse. This “reference” to Jesus is from a 9th century source working on a manuscript of a 3rd century commentary of Thallus’ writings about the supposed darkness referenced in the Bible after the crucifixion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_darkness

“On the whole world there pressed a fearful darkness, and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. Thallos calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of histories, without reason it seems to me.” –Africanus, http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Thallus

So, Africanus is commenting on, criticizing really, something supposedly said by Thallus from 200 years prior. Not to mention the name is spelled differently though that is easily explained away I know.

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Pliny

Pliny the younger, I assume, was apparently a Roman lawyer and the only mention relevant seems to be:

“Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.” –Pliny, the Younger, http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Pliny_the_Younger

This in no way confirms the existence of Jesus, it only confirms that there were Christians. This couldn’t even be used as evidence against a mythicism view of Jesus. I guess I have to concede that Christians do exist based on this source, but again I’ll say it doesn’t have anything to do with a halfling Jesus.

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Trajan

So, Trajan was the Emperor of Rome from 98-117CE, he is who Pliny the Younger was writing to in the quote passage above so there isn’t much more to say about him that wasn’t said to Pliny. There is a passage of him replying to Pliny but it too is only about the treatment of Christians in legal matters, not about the veracity of their claims about Jesus being a god.

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Hadrian

Emperor from 117-138CE, after Trajan, his secretary happened to be Suetonius. Again, he doesn’t actually say anything to confirm the existence of Jesus. The only account I can find of him that is useful:

“I do not wish, therefore, that the matter should be passed by without examination, so that these men may neither be harassed, nor opportunity of malicious proceedings be offered to informers. If, therefore, the provincials can clearly evince their charges against the Christians, so as to answer before the tribunal, let them pursue this course only, but not by mere petitions, and mere outcries against the Christians. For it is far more proper, if anyone would bring an accusation, that you should examine it.” Hadrian further explained that if Christians were found guilty they should be judged “according to the heinousness of the crime.” If the accusers were only slandering the believers, then those who inaccurately made the charges were to be punished.” http://www.westarkchurchofchrist.org/library/extrabiblical.htm

All he is doing is speaking of the way to treat Christians based on their crimes not based on the fact that they are Christians. A noble quote, for sure, but not evidence for the existence, let alone godhood of Jesus.

A piece of evidence that would make an apologist not bring up Hadrian may be this:

“There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis. Even the Patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ.“ http://caesarsmessiah.com/blog/2011/11/hadrian-wrote-that-serapis-and-christ-were-the-same-god/

He wrote that Jesus and Serapis were the same god. Strange indeed. If you want Hadrian to be used as evidence that Jesus existed then we would have to also accept that Jesus and Serapis were the same deity.

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Talmud

The Talmud, a collection of Jewish rabbinical teachings, supposedly referencing Jesus’ death, the passage in question:

“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!” –excerpt from the Talmud, http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Talmud

One criticism states that Jesus was crucified, not hanged as the passage states, but I can explain that away by saying the hung him up on the cross. A better criticism is that the Bible recounts Jesus being tried and then executed the day after his trial which was either on or after Passover; no 40 day waiting period and not on the eve of Passover.

Matt 26:2-5 – Ye know that after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified… …But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.

The Bible says he was killed after the Passover; it seems more likely that this reference to an unnamed person who was hanged is someone else and the passage is just vague enough to be used for Jesus.

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Toledoth

I’ve never heard of this source before and in asking for clarification I get this response:

Well of course I have never read teledoth just know him as early historian who wrote about the life if Christ. Let me ask around about that pRticular resource though.

You are citing a source you don’t even know about? Please agree with me that this is fallacious thinking. Considering what I’ve come across I would bet that many people who cite these “sources” haven’t done the least bit of research on them either.

I searched for a source by this title and the only thing I could come up with was the Toledot Yeshu.

Ok, so yes you are right I think. That is the one that has been referenced for me. Have you read?

If this is the source you were speaking of I must confess that I am sure that you didn’t actually look at the sources you sent to me. Laughably I read about this so-called source; it is called an “anti-gospel” and a parody of the life of Jesus.

The stories claim that Jesus (Yeshu) was an illegitimate child, and that he practiced magic and heresy, seduced women, and died a shameful death.

Jewish and Christian scholars agree that isn’t worth discussing as fact.

This scurrilous fable of the life of Jesus is a medieval work, probably written down in the tenth century. …. Though its contents enjoyed a certain currency in the oral traditions of the Jewish masses, it was almost totally ignored by official or scholarly Judaism

I hope this isn’t a source that is seriously being sent around but I fear it is still being parroted to extend the list of so-called sources and evidence for the apologist arguments. In stark contrast to giving veracity to the claims of believers, giving sources like this is harmful to the discussion.

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Lucian

This is one that wasn’t in the original list given to me but I came across it and wanted to see what it had to say too. Perhaps you know of this one but have decided to leave it out because it isn’t good enough but that would mean you approved of the others that were so bad. The passage in question is:

“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.” –Lucian, http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Lucian

The sarcasm or vitriol in this passage is thick. This isn’t an eyewitness account of either the “distinguished personage” or the death of the “sage”. The link says it was from ~120 after the death of Jesus. I can accept that this is speaking about Jesus but it doesn’t seem like anything more than someone talking about the Christians, he certainly doesn’t give them any credit in their beliefs by speaking about them as he does.

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I would like to comment that it seems funny that the names of the ‘extra-Biblical, non-Christian sources’ seem to be in the same order everywhere. The list that was given to me in the email exchange is the same order as the list on IronChariots and the same as I’ve heard numerous times, though it could just be me counting the hits.

If we accept most of the above as evidence enough that Jesus existed, the following points are made:

  • There was a Jew named Jesus who founded a religious movement
  • He was ordered executed by a Roman prefect named Pilate
  • His martyrdom is likely what fueled the growth of the movement

However, we have not made the points that:

  • The man had magic powers
  • The Biblical account is factual
  • The Bible is a reliable historical source
  • What people believe today is true
  • Suetonius, Thallus, Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan, Emperor Hadrian, and Toledot Yeshu are useful names to drop as extra-Biblical, non-Christian sources of Jesus related factoids.

If you are one of the people who has been giving the above as sources of confirmation of the claims of Jesus…

to-admit-that-you-were-wrong-is-to-declare-that-you-are-wiser-now-than-you-were-before2

This post is not to say that I am smarter than anyone else. I feel like I have openly investigated the sources and criticized them fairly. Please take the sarcasm in this post as friendly. Above all take the information in this post back to your circles and make sure people stop citing some of these sources as confirmation of the life of Jesus. Admitting that some of the sources aren’t useful doesn’t mean you are admitting that Jesus wasn’t god; it means you are intellectually honest with both yourself and others.

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