Proofs of Jesus Christ outside the New Testament – Classical Writers

Most of this information, is widely known and perhaps widely disputed as well. It can be found in Robert E. Van Voorst’s book Jesus Outside the New Testament. This is in response to a discussion that is ongoing here because of this post. I decided to post instead of comment. As you can see, it is just too much to put into a comment. I believe that any discussion that has been maintained at the level which ours has is beneficial, if no one else, to me. There is enough here to dismiss the idea, I believe, that Christianity is a religion based on a myth or cultic character from 1st century Palestine. In the days that predated the mass media and communication, to see a movement powerful enough to be expelled from Rome in 49, having started only 16 years earlier, has to be contributed to something more than a myth or misunderstanding of ‘good teacher’. The Christian religion spread from Palestine to Rome in 16 short years and was large enough to be considered of refutation and mockery.

Thallos (c.55) – Thallos was historian of which little remain. His three volume work on the history of the Mediterranean from the fall of Troy to about 50 was lost as was the book by the Christian writer, Sextus Julius Africanus, in his own history (c.220) which was subsequently lost. The only reference we have to this book is found 7 centures after it was written as quoted by the Byzantine historian Georgius Syncellus. According to this historian, Africanus, in writing about the darkness at the death of Christ, refers to Thallos’ work:

In the third of his histories, Thallos calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun, which seems to me to be wrong.

Africanus takes it Thallos to be hostile to the death of Christ, perhaps with the original work a refutation in small part of the new sect of Judaism.

Pliny the Younger (61-113) – Pliny was an important administrator in Palestine during the 1st and 2nd century on this, our common era. Around 112, Pliney writes the Roman Emperor Trajan concerning his pursuit of the Christians, which has given us perhaps one of the finest examples of early Christian daily life,

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind

Pliny does not deal with the historical figure of a certain Jesus, nor does he note any differences among sects, but he does give a solid example of Christians who were willing to be put to death for this Christ as if He was a god.

Suetonius (c.70-140) – Suetonius was a Roman lawyer, and a friend of Pliny the Younger. He is known for his authorship of the Lives of Caesar. In the fifth book of the series, concerning the Emperor Claudius (41-54), he writes,

He expelled the Jews from Rome, since they were always make disturbances because of the instigator Chrestus.

Most scholars agree that this expulsion occurred c. 49.

After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. (Acts 18:1-2 NKJV)

The Jews were not Jews alone, but Christians as well, of Jewish descent. While the name of Chrestus was popular among the Greco-Roman slaves of the Empire, no where is it documented among the Jews, whom this Chrestus was supposedly a leader. Not one mention is found in the Jewish catacombs of ancient Rome.

Tacitus (c56-c120) – Tacitus was another Roman historian, the writer of Annals, of which a portion survives. Writing of the Emperor Nero and the burning of Rome (c64), he says,

But neither human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gos ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Neoro substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts, whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suppressed fora  time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city (Rome), where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.

Mara bar Serapion (early second century) – The remaining manuscript which is housed in the British Museum is dated to the seventh century. He most likely was of the school of the Stoics. In the letter to his son, he makes mention of the Athenians, the people of Samos, and the Jews. The Athenians, according to the author, are condemned for the murder of Socrates; the people of Samos for the destruction of Pythagoras; and the Jews for the murder of their Wise King. The Athenians died of famine, the people of Samians drowned, and the Jews suffered the Diaspora. He concludes,

Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wife king, because of the new laws he laid down.

We noticed that no hint of divinity is applied the the Jewish wise king.

Lucian of Samosata (c115-200) – Lucian was a satirist, and oddly enough from the same city which nurtured Adoptionism only a short time later. Writing in 165, he makes mention of Christ,

Lucian of Samosata writes,

During this period associated himself with the priests and scribes of the Christians in Palestine, and learned their astonishing wisdom. Of course, in a short time he made them look like children; he was their prophet, leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He explained and commented on some of their sacred writings, and even wrote some himself. They looked up to him as a god, made him their lawgiver, and chose him as the official patron of their group, or at least the vice- patron. He was second only to that one whom they still worship today, the man in Palestine who was crucified because he brought this new form of initiation into the world”

And,

Having convinced themselves that they are immortal and will live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most willingly give themselves to it. Moreover, that first lawgiver of theirs persuaded them that they are all brothers the moment they transgress and deny the Greek gods and begin worshipping that crucified sophist and living by his laws

The attribution of ‘sophist’ to Christ follows the early Christian tradition of assigning Wisdom to Christ.

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35 Replies to “Proofs of Jesus Christ outside the New Testament – Classical Writers”

  1. Again, not one witness to the acts of Jesus… the miracles of raising the dead etc.. At the very least the Roman centurion whose servant Jesus healed would have had something to say about it in Rome.

    Every reference we have is second or third hand, usually quoting what Christians said or did. Nowhere outside of the bible will you find a first-person reference to the acts of Jesus, his death, his resurrection, or any other verse in the Bible.

    I am not trying not be a twit here. I looked for it genuinely and did not find a word of witness outside of the Christian documents that were assembled 300 years later. (I actually read Tacitus. Trust me, that’s dues enough in any quest).

    All the references here (and any other I have ever seen) are second or third person accounts of things the author heard about through rumor. No non-Christian or Jew ever wrte anythign close to the stories we read in the synoptic gospels.

    Again, if it had happened as the bible tells it, the tales would have been recorded as some of the most major events in history by the Jews, Romans, and others. Such records simply do not exist.

  2. I do not understand you as a twit, William, not at all. Could it be that those which were touched by Christ preached instead of writing, so that we have the Church as it developed in 16 years – 16 years and it challenged an Empire? In those 16 years, the Church developed without written documents, and did so until Paul and the Gospels, as the surviving witnesses disappeared. How can you account for such a spread of the Message in such a short time?

    Again, we know that people who are mentioned in the texts themselves – Apollos, etc… – were preachers. The great majority of people mentioned by Paul did not write a single thing that survives, but they preached and served. That is why we have no other evidence – because those that were touched by Christ became His disciples, and those disciples preached instead of wrote. You seek witnesses that witnessed the message, but remained outside the message. Maybe that is not possible?

    If you saw such a series of events, and felt what was testified to in Acts, could you remain outside the Church?

  3. I have no doubt that there is a literary legacy to the Christian movement. And I do not doubt that Christianity reached Rome, eventually becoming one of only two religions that were ever banned by the senate.

    These are facts.

    What is missing is a secular (or other religion) account of the incredible events chronicled in the Bible. Think about it… the sky turning black… the earth split, the dead walking (at the crucifixion). The temple being rent? The are huge. Surely the Sanhedrin would have recorded these events. Or Pilate. Anyone and everyone would have a memory of the day, and yet we read nothing of it anywhere but in the Christian tales.

    Much is possible. However, I agree with Focualt: the simplest answer is usually the correct one. To me, the simplest answer is that the events (and Jesus’ divinity) were exaggerated over time until (in the forth century) it was all finally written down and collected.

  4. Faith:

    As you study the various religions, yuo will find that faith is far from simple. Each ask you to accept an article of faith… an unquestioned fact upon which all else rests and makes sense. Without it, the religion falls apart. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam… all ask for the kernel of faith; a belief in one basic tenet that has no proof. With Christianity it is the divine nature of Jesus. Accept that, and the protection of the texts and the power of the religion makes perfect sense. Without it, it falls apart.

    The problem is, ALL religions ask for the same kind of kernel of faith. Which a person chooses determines which religion is “right”. Because faith is blind, there really is no reasoning that makes faith in Jesus any more or less attractive than faith in Vishnu or Mohamed. It’s a coin toss that is usually decided by where you were born and what god your culture honors.

  5. Reasoned faith is a rare thing. (Notably in Islam) In every church you ever go to you will see that the vast majority of people simply go through the motions… believing what they believe “because it is so”. No thought, no reasoning.

    This would be fine, except these same people use their faith to change our world… create laws, govern, do PTA meetings and edit school book lists.

    I have seldom if ever had a problem with a person who has considered their faith and looked for the reason behind it. However, I often receive death threats and vitriol from those who simply accept that what they believe is the whole of the truth.

    Also… there really are faiths that are nothing more than pure hogwash, designed to make money for (and appease the egos of) those who start them. But they, too, demand faith. If I started a religion that worshiped giant invisible bunny rabbits, I have no doubt that I could find adherents who would be willing to crush you Christianity in the name of the Holy Bunny Rabbit.

  6. See, this is at the heart of why I am so patently anti-religion. A man’s reasoned, personal faith (though I may not disagree with it) is his own. If he has seen the same facts as I have and made different decisions for his life, then I have no right to counter his decisions.

    However, this is not what religion IS.

    Religions are communities of people who sacrifice their own reason for the reasoning of the leaders. In every mosque and synagogue you will find people who sit quietly in the pews, disagreeing with tenets of the faith but surrendering to the church all the same.

    Many who went to school with me went on to become pastors and priests. I’ve seen them sacrifice their own reasoned faith in order to get a job as pastor so they can preach to blue-haired old ladies and make them feel nice with stupid religious stories. They do so with the best intention. They want to do good. But in the end they are simply reaffirming a mass-religion that has no hope of ever reaching truths.

    This is true in all religions. They are antithetical to reason, and always will be as near as I can see.

  7. I met Mother Teresa. She did not strike as self-sacrificing. IMHO she was a product of the media, though I do not dismiss the fact that she did some good (mostly in her early years).

    Faith and reason must be opposites by their nature. Faith, after all, is belief where there is no cause to believe. As soon as you apply reason, “faith” becomes “knowledge”.

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