Home | Who Was Jesus Christ--Charlesk Badluah, 1860 | A Few Words about the Devil | Ancient Hebrew (Talmud) account of Christ--McKinsey | A review of references to Christ outside the Bible | EBIONITES--EARLY JEWISH CHRISTIANS | SEPTUAGINT BIBLE & the transmission of the Old Testament | 194 Contradictions New Testament | 62 Contradictions Old & New Testaments | 101 Contradictions Old Testament | CONTRADICTIONS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT | MARIJUANA AND THE BIBLE--Zion Coptic Church | Q, a product of Christian fantasy--jk | Sermon On the Mount--contradictions | Interpolation in Josephus on Jesus | Christian Treatment of Women | New Testament Supports Socialism
A review of references to Christ outside the Bible

You might have noted some redundance and simplicity of language.  Even so this is an excellent, simple account of the materials outside the Bible. The  JOSEPHUS PASSAGE NEEDS EDITING!--JK

Anyone seriously interested in this subject will find the writings of Prof. G. A. Wells to be extremely helpful and may find the Recommended Book List useful.

Enter subhead content here



Table of Contents






Josephus wrote five works in Greek:
(a)Life, his autobiography; (b)Contra Apion, a defense of Judaism; (c)The Jewish War, an eyewitness account of the revolt against Rome (66-74 CE); (d)Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades; (e)The Jewish Antiquities, a history of the Jews from Adam to his generation. There are two references to Jesus in The Jewish Antiquities.

The first reference speaks of a James as the brother of Jesus. Josephus described how the high priest Ananus took advantage of the death of the Roman governor Festus in 62 CE to organize a mob to stone James.

But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought it before the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.

While Origen refers to this passage in his Commentary on Matthew 10.17, this remains inconclusive. The fact that the passage was referenced by Origen around 200 is not evidence for the authenticity as it still leaves well over a century when the passage could have been interpolated.

In Wells' 1982 book, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1982, p.211), Wells objects that 'the Greek does not have 'so-called' but 'him called Christ,' and this, so far from being non-Christian, is the exact wording of Mt. 1:16.' (The Historical Evidence for Jesus, (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1982, p.211). Furthermore, in Wells' later books, he presents additional objections to the authenticity of the passage. (See G.A. Wells, Who Was Jesus? A Critique of the New Testament Record (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1989), p.22; idem, The Jesus Legend (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1996), pp.52-53, 225 n.19).

The second passage is:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.

Unlike Josephus' shorter reference to Jesus, this passage is naturally controversial. Most scholars suspect there has been at least some tampering with the text on the basis of some or all of the italicized sections. Thus scholarly opinion can be divided into three camps: those who accept the entire passage as authentic; those who reject the entire passage as a Christian interpolation into the text (perhaps authored by the fourth-century church historian Eusebius); and those who believe that the original text contained an authentic reference to Jesus but was later embellished by Christian copyists.

NB. It should be noted that the extant Greek manuscripts of Josephus' Antiquities all date to the tenth century or later.

The reasons why it should be rejected are:
(i) it is impossible that Josephus a Jew would have called Jesus the Messiah.
(ii) the passage is never quoted by Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, or Origen, despite its enormous apologetic value.
(iii) the passage interrupts the narrative flow of the surrounding text, i.e., the passage comes in the middle of a collection of stories about calamities which have befallen the Jews, and if the passage is excised, the argument runs on in proper sequence.
(iv) if it is accepted that there was a reference to Jesus, but it has been altered to reflect a favourable view of him, the fact that there has been any tampering with the text at all makes the entire passage suspect; a heavy burden of proof falls upon anyone who defends partial authenticity.

(2) Josephus
Flavius Josephus was the Roman name of Joseph ben Matthias. Josephus during the second half of the first century CE, produced two long and detailed histories of the Jews and the events leading to the Roman victory in the Jewish Wars, History of the Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews, but has almost nothing to say about Jesus and even that is probably added by Christians to fill an obvious gap.
Josephus was born in Jerusalem only a few years after the crucifixion. He shows an interest in the Jewish religious groups of the time. He speaks of the Jewish religious groups, and about John the Baptist, but he says nothing about the crucifixion or how it occurred. We are therefore asked to believe that a man almost contemporaneous with Jesus, and whose reputation was built on detailed histories of the Jewish people, fails to mention him except in two brief passages, if they are genuine.

The precocious Josephus had studied all the Jewish religious sects before the age of 19 when he decided to become a Pharisee. He became a clerk to the Sanhedrin and at 26 went as an envoy to Rome to plead for some priests sent to Nero by Procurator Felix for trial. With the help of Poppaea, the Empress, who was possibly a Jewish proselyte or at least a godfearer, he succeeded. He was thus in Rome at much the same time as Paul the apostle.

In Jerusalem in 64 CE, revolt was simmering. Josephus had witnessed the power and extent of the Empire and knew that rebellion was futile. When the war broke out Josephus was made a general by the Sanhedrin and fought in Galilee with John of Gischala, the Zealot leader of the Galilaeans. Vespasian captured him after the town of Jotapata had been besieged for 47 days and decided to use him as an interpreter.

Vespasian asked Josephus to write an account of the war for his campaign Triumph, a Roman victory parade. It was to be a warning to the people of the East not to try to defy Roman might.
Josephus wrote a draft in his native Aramaic which he called On the Capture of Jerusalem. This he polished into his book, the Jewish War. To gather his material, as the appointed historian of the Emperor, he was granted access to official archives, to the Reports of Roman Governors, the campaign diaries of Vespasian and Titus, the Emperor's commentaries and he also corresponded with Agrippa I, for a short while King of Judaea before the war. His work had the ultimate stamp of approval - that of the Emperors themselves.
When Josephus uses official sources it is usually evident. He often tells us who filed the report from which he is quoting and transcribes it verbatim with little effort to paraphrase. Thus even non-signalled passages from official sources can be identified by their style. When writing from experience he is more informal, sounds less official and is less impersonal in the information he imparts.

It should be noted that provincial governors had to dispatch, to the Emperor, 'acta', official reports of all that occurred under their jurisdiction. Important trials such as those requiring the death penalty had to be filed, particularly if the trial concerned an attempt at insurrection against Imperial rule. On the evidence of the gospels Pilate must have filed an account of the trial of Jesus, and one must have existed in the Roman archives. We know that Tiberius had an almost obsessive reverence for the legal and civic reforms introduced by his predecessor, Augustus, and paid meticulous attention to the governance of the provinces. Officials had to take care not to step outside of their powers and particularly not to oppress their inferiors. Taxation was light and the policy in frontier regions was to avoid conflict. It is inconceivable that Tiberius should not have been informed of the trial of a man [as portrayed in the Gospels--JK] charged with riotous assembly and treason.

Josephus had access to the Acts of the Governors and he would have required this to obtain an accurate view of events between 6 CE when his earlier source, the books of Nicholas of Damascus, court historian to Herod the Great ended, and about 55 CE when his direct experience as a scribe to the Sanhedrin would have become relevant.  [He, like Tacitus, would have access to the Imperial Library--JK.]  So for the period of about 50 years, which covered the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus, Josephus's main source would have been Roman and Herodian archives.

The present versions of the Jewish War say nothing of Jesus, John the Baptist or Menehem, who revolted in 66 CE, but they do refer to Judas of Galilee and Theudas, both messianic nationalist leaders. Some manuscripts of the Jewish War do contain a passage on Jesus extracted from Josephus's companion volume, the Antiquities of the Jews, proving that someone has tampered with the original text, presumably in an attempt to fill the obvious gap left by the initial excision.

The inserted passage is favourable towards Jesus even though he was viewed by the Roman hierarchy as a terrorist. Josephus would have been taking an unlikely risk by making such an assessment as he was a captive who had been adopted by Vespasian and given certain privileges in return for certain duties.

In versions of the Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus, are two passages describing Jesus. Neither is in the Jewish version of the Josephus's Antiquities. The longer passage, the so called Testimonium Flavianum (18:3:3), is cited by Christians as independent confirmation of Jesus' existence and resurrection. [This is the same second passage quoted in full above--JK].  It reads:

[Now there was] about this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats 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 Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvellous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Though this passage was quoted by Eusebius writing in about 320 CE, earlier Christian writers make no reference to Josephus's remarkable commendation of Jesus despite its value to them, as they would have surely done had it existed. Indeed Origen, writing in about 250 CE puzzled:

Though he [Josephus] did not admit our Jesus to be the Christ he none the less gave witness to so much righteousness in James.

Elsewhere he adds:

Although [Josephus] disbelieved in Jesus as Christ

thereby contradicting the extant text. Plainly Origen's version of Josephus's works did not have the passage to which we are referring, but by 340 CE the version used by Eusebius did. Jerome's Latin version has the insertion but it is less assertive, rendering 'He was the Messiah' to 'He was believed to be the Messiah'. This clearly shows that the text of Josephus has been altered.

The passage giving testimony to Jesus in Antiquities comes during a catalogue of calamities that the Jews experienced at the time of Pilate taking office. Josephus seems here to be drawing upon official sources and lists Pilate's raising of the standards in Jerusalem and his taking Temple funds to finance the construction of an aqueduct into the city. Then he mentions Jesus and concludes with two incidents in Rome that occurred, according to Tacitus, in 19 CE. This chronology implies that Pilate was governor and Jesus was active much earlier than Christians today believe. The next section of Antiquities has skipped almost two decades to a revolt led by 'The Egyptian'; (the one that Paul was mistaken for in Acts) in Samaria in 35 CE. So two tumults in Jerusalem and two incidents in Rome bracket a short paragraph praising Jesus, then there is a jump forward of 15 years to the next strand of the story. Something is clearly amiss here.

Antiquities, does mention both John the Baptist and a James, the brother of Jesus in connection with Jesus, later in Antiquities (20.9.1):

So he [Ananus, son of Ananus the high priest] assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before him the brother of Jesus, he who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others (or some of his companions) and when he had formed an accusation against them, he delivered them to be stoned.

This too should be disregarded because firstly, the stoning of James is not recorded in Acts; secondly, Hegesippus a Jewish Christian, writing ca. 170 CE, says that James was killed not by stoning but in a tumult and by being clubbed; thirdly, when Origen refers to Josephus' mention of James, the text he is using is clearly not the one above (in fact the text that Origen uses is not found in any extant MSS giving further evidence to the fact of interpolation and tampering with Josephus' writings). Josephus no doubt did refer to a James and the words 'the brother of Jesus' have been added.

NB. The name 'Jesus' was as common among the Jews as is William or George with us. In the writings of Josephus, we find accounts of a number of Jesuses. One was Jesus, the son of Sapphias, the founder of a seditious band of mariners; another was Jesus, the captain of the robbers whose followers fled when they heard of his arrest; still another Jesus was a monomaniac who for seven years went about Jerusalem, crying, 'Woe, woe, woe unto Jerusalem!' who was bruised and beaten many times, but offered no resistance; and who was finally killed with a stone at the siege of Jerusalem.

In the closing years of the first century, Josephus, the celebrated Jewish historian, wrote his famous work on The Antiquities of the Jews.  In this work, the historian made no mention of Christ, and for two hundred years after the death of Josephus, the name of Christ did not appear in his history. There were no printing presses in those days.  Books were multiplied by being copied. It was, therefore, easy to add to or change what an author had written.
Sometime during the fourth century, a copy of The Antiquities of the Jews appeared, in which occurred this [second] passage [supra twice]:

Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works; a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

However for more than two hundred years, the Christian Fathers who were familiar with the works of Josephus knew nothing of this passage. Had the passage been in the works of Josephus which they knew, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen an Clement of Alexandria would have been eager to cite it to their Jewish opponents in their many controversies. Indeed, Origen, who knew his Josephus well, expressly affirmed that that writer had not acknowledged Christ.
The passage first appeared in the writings of the Christian Father Eusebius, the first historian of Christianity, early in the fourth century and some believe that he was its author.

Eusebius, introduces this passage in his Evangelical Demonstration (Book III., p.124), in these words: 'Certainly the attestations I have already produced concerning our Savior may be sufficient. However, it may not be amiss, if, over and above, we make use of Josephus the Jew for a further witness.'

Everything demonstrates the spurious character of the passage in Antiquities. It is written in the style of Eusebius, and not in the style of Josephus. Josephus was a voluminous writer. He wrote extensively about men of minor importance. The brevity of this reference to Christ is, therefore, a strong argument for its falsity. This passage interrupts the narrative. It has nothing to do with what precedes or what follows it; and its position clearly shows that the text of the historian has been separated by a later hand to give it room. Josephus was a Jew and yet this passage makes him acknowledge the divinity, the miracles, and the resurrection of Christ, that is to say, it makes an orthodox Jew believe as a Christian. Josephus could not possibly have written these words without being logically compelled to embrace Christianity. All the arguments of history and of reason unite in the conclusive proof that the passage is an unblushing forgery.

For these reasons every honest Christian scholar has abandoned it as an interpolation. Dean Milman says: 'It is interpolated with many additional clauses.' Dean Farrar, writing in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, says: 'That Josephus wrote the whole passage as it now stands no sane critic can believe.' Bishop Warburton denounced it as 'a rank forgery and a very stupid one, too.' Chambers' Encyclopaedia says: 'The famous passage of Josephus is generally conceded to be an interpolation.'

A reader of the ancient texts is struck by how little the literature has to say about events recorded in the New Testament. For example, Herod's infamous murder of the Innocents (in which he ordered the slaughter of hundreds of children), while playing a major role in the New Testament, is not mentioned by any other source, including the various accounts of Herod's reign. Likewise, Josephus' account of first century Palestine devotes much more attention to John the Baptist than to Jesus.

Some comment must be made on the issue of 'independent confirmation'.  Even if a reference to Jesus in a text is authentic, and not a later Christian insertion, that text may not provide any new information. For instance, if a writer is merely repeating what he was told by Christians, who in turn derive their information from the New Testament, then the text in question does not provide independent confirmation of the New Testament, as the claims involved are ultimately derived from the NT.

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, writing during the second half of the first century CE, produced two major works: History of the Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. Two apparent references to Jesus occur in the second of these works. The longer, and more famous passage, occurs in Book 18 of Antiquities and reads as follows (taken from the standard accepted Greek text of Antiquities 18:63-64 by L. H. Feldman in the Loeb Classical Library) [the second passage quoted in full 3 times above]:

[Now] about this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats 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 Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvellous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

This passage is called the Testimonium Flavianum, and is sometimes cited by propagandists as independent confirmation of Jesus' existence and resurrection. However, there is excellent reason to suppose that this passage was not written in its present form by Josephus, but was either inserted or amended by later Christians.
The early Christian writer Origen claims that Josephus did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, in direct contradiction to the above passage, where Josephus says, 'He was the Messiah.' Thus, we may conclude that this particular phrase at least was a later insertion. (The version given above was, however, known to Jerome and in the time of Eusebius. Jerome's Latin version, however, renders 'He was the Messiah' to 'He was believed to be the Christ.') Furthermore, other early Christian writers fail to cite this passage, even though it would have suited their purposes to do so.

The passage is highly pro-Christian. It is hard to imagine that Josephus, a Pharisaic Jew, would write such a laudatory passage about a man supposedly killed for blasphemy. Indeed, the passage seems to make Josephus himself out to be a Christian.

Many Biblical scholars reject the entire Testimonium Flavianum as a later Christian insertion. However, some maintain that Josephus's work originally did refer to Jesus, but that Christian copyists later expanded and made the text more favorable to Jesus. These scholars cite such phrases as 'tribe of Christians' and 'wise man' as being atypical Christian usages, but plausible if coming from a first century Palestinian Jew. Of course, a suitably clever Christian wishing to 'dress up' Josephus would not have much trouble imitating his style.

Josephus apparently refers to Jesus in passing later in the 'Antiquities', where we find this passage [quoted in full above]:

So he [Ananus, son of Ananus the high priest] assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before him the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others (or some of his companions) and when he had formed an accusation against them, he delivered them to be stoned. (Antiquities 20.9.1)

Opinion about this passage is mixed. Some scholars believe that it is a later Christian insertion, like the Testimonium Flavianium, but of course much less blatantly so. Those who argue for Jesus's non-existence note that Josephus spends much more time discussing John the Baptist and various other supposed Messiahs than he does discussing Jesus.

In the extant manuscripts of Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, which was written ca. 93 CE, there are two mentions of 'Jesus' (He is actually named, not just called 'Christ'.) The longer of the two relevant passages states that Pilate had him crucified after he had been indicted by the highest Jewish authorities, that he was a [this quotation appears 4 times above--JK] 'wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man', that he was the Messiah ('the Christ') who wrought 'surprising feats', taught 'such people as accept the truth with pleasure', won over many Jews and Greeks, and appeared alive to his followers on the third day after his death. Finally, it is said that 'these and countless other marvellous things about him' had been foretold by "the prophets of God" and that 'the tribe of Christians named after him has still to this day not disappeared'

Firstly, Josephus, as an orthodox Jew, could not have written such obviously Christian words, and that, if he had believed all that they affirm, he would not have restricted his comments to this brief paragraph (and to a single phrase in the other, shorter passage). Hence the very most that can be claimed is that he here made some reference to Jesus which has been retouched by a Christian hand.

It should be noted that the earliest MSS (for this part of the Antiquities) dates from the eleventh century, and hence may derive from an interpolated copy. This historian was popular with Christians partly because he stressed the superiority of biblical ethics to Graeco-Roman morality, and since the relevant MSS are late, and since the copying was done principally by Christians, there was plenty of time and opportunity for an entry about Jesus to be inserted.
Furthermore, it is not cited by any writer before Eusebius in the fourth century. L.H. Feldman observes: 'No fewer than eleven church fathers prior to or contemporary with Eusebius cite various passages from Josephus (including the Antiquities)', but not this passage. He adds: 'Moreover, it is a full century - and five other church fathers, most notably Augustine, who had many an occasion to find it useful - before we have another reference to the passage in Jerome' who 'knows Josephus so well, cites from him ninety times, and admires him so much that he refers to him as a second Livy', yet cites this passage 'only once'. It seems, then, that, even after the time of Eusebius, some further considerable time elapsed before all or most copies of the Antiquities came to include the passage.

In the passage in Josephus' The Jewish War parallel to the one in the Antiquities about Pilate, there is no mention of Jesus, despite the fact that the account of Pilate in the War is almost as full as the version in the Antiquities. This corroborates our suspicion that there was either no passage about Jesus in the original text of the Antiquities or that it had a different form. (It should also be noted that Justus of Tiberias, the great contemporary and rival as historian of Josephus, also made no mention of Jesus).

Even if Josephus did make some (perhaps uncomplimentary, or at best neutral) reference to Jesus that has been reworked in the longer passage into the present eulogy by a Christian hand, the date of the work in which both passages occur (ca. 93 CE) makes it too late to be of decisive importance for the historicity of Jesus; for at least some of the gospel accounts, placing Jesus in Pilate's Palestine, were in written form by then, and Josephus could, like Tacitus, have taken his information from what Christians were by then saying. This would be quite in accordance with his largely uncritical attitude to his sources in this late work where they are often employed not only negligently, but also at least where it is possible to check them - with great freedom and arbitrariness, with only occasional evidence of any critical attitude towards them.

The shorter passage in the Antiquities which mentions Jesus consists of a reference to James 'the brother of Jesus, him called Christ'. Certainly, the use of the term 'Christ' (Messiah) without explanation in both passages is not to be expected of Josephus who takes considerable care not to call anyone Christ or Messiah, as the term had overtones of revolution and independence, of which, as a lackey of the Roman royal house, he strongly disapproved. Also, it is not true that the phrase 'him called so-and-so' is either invariably dismissive in Josephus' usage (so that it would mean 'so-called', 'alleged' and so could not here be from a Christian hand), nor that 'him called Christ' is an unchristian usage an interpolator would have avoided. (On the contrary, the phrase occurs, as a designation of Jesus, both in the NT and in Justin Martyr's Apology (1, 30.)

Apart from the two questionable passages in Josephus, Jewish literature is totally unhelpful concerning Jesus, as is widely admitted. We cannot, then, be surprised that efforts have been made both to salvage some mentions of him from this historian, and to insist that these were not uncritical repetitions of what Christians were at that time claiming, but were based on independent information.

In Josephus' Antiquities (book xviii, 3) an unknown hand has inserted between the account of the Sedition of the Jews against Pontius Pilate, and that of Anubis and Pauline in the Temple of Isis, a purple patch relating to Jesus, which is clearly a forgery.

Josephus, a Jew, is made to say [again the quote, 5 times aboveJK]: 'Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works; a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.' Now, it is hardly likely that a Jew would show such a respect towards Jesus, who was known among his own people as a seditious person; and talk about his teaching 'the truth.' Further on he is made to say: 'He was the Christ, and when Pilate ... had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him , for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.'

These are expressions, not of a Jew, but of a Christian. Forgeries were easy to produce in those days, when all books were written on skins, to which fresh pieces could easily be fastened. Neither Philo, nor the two Plinys, nor any other writer of the age, mention the name of Jesus, much less the 'ten thousand other wonderful things' mentioned by the interpolator of Josephus. Tacitus wrote a History, and made no mention of Jesus.

It is becoming increasingly common in a discussion of the Josephan passages to deal first with Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1 (20:200 in the alternate numbering system), since it is often used to support the likelihood of there having been an 'original' Testimonium Flavianum which can be distilled from the obvious Christian paragraph in Antiquities 18.3.3. And it is becoming increasingly common, it seems, to label the reference to Jesus in 20.9.1 as 'generally undisputed' or 'certain'.

One of the arguments made is that this passage is present in all the extant manuscripts. However, our Greek manuscripts date from no earlier than the 10th century, and we do not have a manuscript tradition as rich as that of the New Testament where comparison of texts and their families can reach back into the 3rd century. It is true that we have a direct quotation of the Antiquities 20 passage by the church historian Eusebius who wrote in the early 4th century, and it does not essentially vary from the extant one. But this is still over two centuries from the composition of the Antiquities, leaving more than sufficient time and scope for emendation to have taken place in some quarters.

As to the non-survival of variants showing differences in the passage under discussion, something often appealed to, it is virtually an axiom in textual criticism that where widely-known passages in a given writer, or passages common to different works, are concerned, scribes will often gravitate toward a common expression, to bring one copy into line with another. That is, a reference or turn of phrase may be changed to reflect the version that is most widely familiar (e.g., a change of some of the teachings in the Didache's 'Two Ways' section to agree with the wording in Jesus' mouth found in Matthew), and this can extend to the very presence of such elements. This would particularly apply to the two passages in Josephus, since in Christian hands, those references to Jesus would not only have become universally known, they would have constituted the principal raison detre for Christians continuing to show any interest in Josephus at all.  In fact, it would be amazing to discover a manuscript which did not contain those passages more or less as we now have them (unless literally unearthed from some early time). One can be quite certain that long before the 10th century no manuscript of the Antiquities worked on by a Christian could fail to contain the phrase 'brother of Jesus, the one called (the) Christ' in connection with James in 20.9.1.

The same would be true of the Testimonium Flavianum in chapter 18, even if the latter, being longer and with more elements, occasionally exhibits some small variance. The enlargement in the Old Russian (Slavonic) version is a separate matter.
Thus the lack of significant textual variation in surviving manuscripts, much less of a missing element, is virtually meaningless and cannot be used to prove anything.

The Antiquities 20.9.1 passage containing the reference to Jesus as it stands (essentially) in all extant copies, including in Eusebius' quote of it, is:

But the emperor, when he learned of the death of Festus, sent Albinus to be procurator of Judea...But the younger Ananus who, as we have already said, had obtained the high priesthood, was of an exceedingly bold and reckless disposition... Ananus, therefore, being of this character, and supposing that he had a favorable opportunity on account of the fact that Festus was dead and Albinus was still on the way, called together the Sanhedrin and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the one called (the) Christ [ton adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou], James by name, together with some others and accused them of violating the law, and condemned them to be stoned. But those in the city who seemed most moderate and skilled in the law were very angry at this, and sent secretly to the king, requesting him to order Ananus to cease such proceedings...And the king, Agrippa, in consequence, deprived him of the high priesthood, which he had held three months, and appointed Jesus, the son of Damnaeus.

It is commonly argued that Josephus likes to identify for the reader's sake a freshly introduced figure by some sort of explanatory description. This is his first (and only) reference to James, and thus the identification of Jesus as his brother serves this purpose. There are a number of potential flaws in this position.

There is no certainty that the identifying phrase as it stands now must have come from Josephus' pen, for he may have described James by some other reference which was subsequently changed by a Christian copyist. That the latter was the case is suggested by the fact that the second part of the extant phrase is suspiciously identical to the one which concludes Matthew 1:16 (ho legomenos Christos: the one called (the) Christ, though the Josephan phrase is in an oblique case: tou legomenou Christou).

Even in the face of this match in Matthew, it is often claimed that the phrase is not Christian because it is not found anywhere else in Christian writings. This observation does not change the fact that it does appear at least once, in the most popular and widely known Gospel of all from the mid-second century on, and could thus have exerted an influence on a Christian copyist inserting a phrase into Josephus. Suggestions that Josephus was a Jewish-Christian is hardly logically compelling.

If we are not to beg the question itself, we must ask: if, for the sake of argument, one postulates that Jesus did not exist, could not Josephus have identified his James in some other way? (The question could be asked even outside the context of the historical Jesus debate.) It cannot be ruled out a priori that he would have had no way of doing so, for he may have had some other nugget of information available to him. It may even be possible that he offered no descriptive identification for James at all.

If Josephus did use some other phrase, one having no connection to Jesus, let's say, it is entirely within the realm of possibility, even probability, that, given Christian practices of emendation evidenced in their own documentary record, a copyist would have felt Josephus' original identification inadequate or even undesirable, and thus substituted a phrase of his own, namely the one we see today.
Let me deal here with a point often voiced against this possibility: that such an insertion would have been much longer, since a Christian scribe would have taken the opportunity to say much more about Jesus. This is not a compelling argument. Even a naive copyist would have recognized the limitations he faced. In a tightly-packed account of James' death and its repercussions on Ananus, there would have been no scope for an extended digression about Jesus. It would have destroyed the passage. And if the copyist had a short original phrase in front of him, his tendency might well have been to replace it with one of more or less equal length.

Once again, an argument in favor of authenticity is rendered inconclusive or even invalid.  But something else could have happened, other than the replacement of a different original phrase. Josephus may have liked as a rule to provide a little description for a new character, but suppose that here he chose not to because he felt it unnecessary, or perhaps was unable to do so because he knew so little about the man? Could either of these alternatives be possible, and might they be suggested by the evidence itself?

The possibility that Josephus knew virtually nothing else about James is suggested by the fact that he never tells us anything (outside the disputed phrase) beyond the fact and basic manner of his death. (Note the difference between this and the long, detailed and somewhat contradictory account in Hegesippus preserved by Eusebius!) Josephus does not even attach the common cognomen 'the Just' to James, something which a Christian copyist would have felt no necessity to remove. (Yes, the fact that the postulated interpolator did not himself insert James' common nickname, which presumably would have been known to him, could perhaps be appealed to by dissenters.

But it's a minor point, and might be explained by saying that the words used of James by Josephus wouldn't have accommodated inserting 'the Just' too well.)  If Josephus did know nothing more, then he would have been forced to introduce James with no identifying enlargement. He would have used some equivalent to 'a certain James' or 'someone named James'. Now, what in fact do we find in the Greek? The actual words referring directly to James are: Iakobos onoma autoi. Translations render this 'James by name' or 'whose name was James' or 'a man named James' (the last by Crossan). But such a phrase, or something close to it, could have stood perfectly well on its own (with a slight change in form), and had the reference to a brother Jesus added to it by a Christian interpolator.
Let's try such an original on for size [quoted 2 times above--JK]:

Ananus, therefore . . . called together the Sanhedrin and brought before them one whose name was James, together with some others, and accused them of violating the law and condemned them to be stoned. But those in the city who seemed most moderate and skilled in the law were very angry at this, and sent secretly to the king, requesting him to order Ananus to cease such proceedings...

Not only does this make good sense, it does not jar within the context of the passage. It would hardly have offended Josephus own or his readers sensibilities. The passage is not about James (much less about Jesus). It is about the high priest Ananus and his fate. Ananus was deposed because he had executed a man named James and certain others, an act which incensed some of the moderates among the influential Jews. The reader didnt have to know anything further about those who had been stoned, especially if Josephus couldnt provide it. Or, Josephus may have known something more about this James, but chose not to insert such information into an already loaded passage, because he didnt think that his readers needed to be given that information. Remember that he is primarily writing for a gentile audience who would not have required a detailed picture of every minor character they met along the way.

Another suspicious aspect of the attached reference to Jesus is that it comes first in the text, that is, the passage reads: (Ananus) brought before them the brother of Jesus, the one called Christ, James by name, together with some others . . . Now why would Josephus think to place the Jesus idea before the James one? That would be a bit of a jar for the reader. He may be minor, but James is the character that brought about Ananus downfall and should be foremost in Josephus mind at this point. It seems much more natural that he would have said something like: (Ananus) brought before them a man named James, who was the brother of Jesus, the one called (the) Christ . . . In this case, the identifying phrase is added as a descriptive after thought.  On the other hand, if the phrase is the product of a Christian scribe, it is understandable that he, consciously or unconsciously, would have given the reference to Jesus pride of place.

Another problem associated with the general scholarly assumption about Antiquities 20 is the question of whether Josephus would have chosen to identify Jesus by the phrase now found there. (We really have a double identification here: one for Jamesthat he is Jesus brother, the second for Jesusthat hes the one called the Christ.) But would Josephus have been likely to offer the latter phrase? There are difficulties in assuming that he did.

Scholars are incorrect when they claim that the reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20 indicates that Josephus must have referred to him earlier. If so, his use of the phrase the one called (the) Christ would imply that the point about the Christ was included in that earlier reference; yet, as we shall see, the very phrase in Antiquities 18 which contains it has been rejected as a later Christian insertion into the Josephan original, since it is so blatantly Christian. Thus Josephus would be alluding to something he hadnt said! And his readers might have been left wondering what he was talking about. (Ill come back to this problem when discussing Antiquities 18.)

This objection can be broadened, however. The Jewish Messiah concept (Christ in Greek) would not necessarily be a subject with which Josephus readers were all that familiar. If Josephus were going to introduce the term, one would expect him to feel constrained to provide a discussion of it somewhere. In fact, the Messiah idea was such a dramatic one, that if one of his characters had actually been designated as such by his followers, Josephus could hardly have avoided addressing this unusual man and episode at some length.
Yet curiously enough, the whole Jewish tradition of messianic expectation is a subject Josephus seems to avoid, for he nowhere directly describes it, not even in connection with the rebellious groups and agitators in the period prior to the Jewish War. (His one clear reference to the messianic oracles of the Jews, the object of whom was Vespasian, he claims [Jewish War 6.5.4], is dealt with in very cursory fashion.) This silence and this reluctance (if it be so) would seem to preclude the likelihood that he would introduce the subject at all, especially as a simple aside, in connection with Jesus.

More of a problem arises, perhaps, when one considers how and why this possible designation in Antiquities 20 was changed to the one witnessed by Origen and all later copies: from brother of the Lord to brother of Jesus, the one called (the) Christ. Kirby has suggested that there would have been no reason for a scribe to tamper with this passage, since the phrase was now understood with the sibling meaning. Kirby asks: Who would want to change Lord to Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah?, and he notes that the former phrase has survived in Galatians 1:19 completely intact. As for the latter objection, this is an entirely different matter. A Christian document, especially one by Paul, hardly needs amending on a point like this for an exclusively Christian readership. But where the historical works of a non-Christian historian were concerned, Christian copyists may have felt otherwise, and regarded brother of the Lord as an inadequate identification of the new historical Jesus for the general reader.

In the case of the shorter text, a point against Josephan authorship is found in the fact that the lost reference adds the Just to James, whereas it is missing in the more reliable reference to James (the basic phrase) in Antiquities 20.

The same objections put forward above to the idea that Jews in general had come up with the tradition that James death had caused the destruction of Jerusalem apply to Josephus himself. Would Josephus have been willing to dump so heavily on the Jewish nation, as well as to accept the implication that God was on the Christian side? Is Josephus likely to have held the Christian James in such high esteema man linked to a troublesome sect, one who (in the view of my dissenters) had a brother who was executed? He spends only a handful of words talking about James in Antiquities 20, none of them even intimating such a concept. Had Josephus subscribed to such a tradition as is found in the lost reference, he would surely have taken the time somewhere to give his readers a fuller, more laudatory account of the man over whom God destroyed the Jewish state and levelled his own holy Temple to the ground!

This interpolated passage from a Christian hand contains the phrase: brother of Jesus, the one called (the) Christ, attached to James. First, the words are thus identified as Christian, and consequently the claim already countered earlier that it is a non-Christian phrase collapses completely. But even more important: how do we relate the fact of its presence in a Christian interpolation to the presence of the identical words in Antiquities 20? As Wells suggests (ibid, p.194), just on general principle its identification as an interpolation in one spot leads to the reasonable inference that it is an interpolation in the other.

But lets look at the point more closely. There are a number of theoretical possibilities:
1.  The interpolator of the lost reference (perhaps into Jewish War 6.5.3) has copied an already existing phrase in Antiquities 20, deliberately or unconsciously.
2.  He was not influenced by Antiquities 20, but by coincidence and perhaps under the influence of Matthew 1:16 he worded his phrase in the same way.
3.  The interpolator was not drawing from Antiquities 20 because the phrase referring to Jesus was not there yet. Instead, a reverse imitation took place. The Antiquities 20 phrase came into being later by copying the first, now-lost interpolation. Both interpolations may be from the same hand, though that is impossible to tell.

Option 1 has inherent problems. Would a Christian copyist, interpolating an entire new passage into Jewish War, bother to dig into the Antiquities for a phrase to describe James and not simply come up with one of his own? In fact, it has been argued that the phrase the one called (the) Christ in Antiquities 20 is un-Christianand even derogatory!which is taken as evidence that it cannot be from the hand of an interpolator but must be authentic to Josephus. If this were the case, surely the Christian interpolator of the lost passage, even had he thought of it, would have tended to avoid using the Antiquities 20 phrase.  If others wish to argue that the interpolator was deliberately copying Josephus words and style to mask the interpolation, fine. Id love to know that this argument is acceptable, that a Christian copyist inserting something into Josephus will deliberately try to imitate his style and vocabulary. I could certainly use that argumentand willin connection with Antiquities 18. And the fact that the interpolator could be creative and add the Just to James, which he would not have found in Antiquities 20, suggests that he would have felt no compunction about putting in his own phrase rather than the skeptical un-Christian one, and so we would not find the lost passage as it stands quoted in Eusebius. At best, this option is quite inconclusive.

Option 2 is inherently less likely, though not impossible. Again, others should find it made problematic by their claim that, being un-Christian and even derogatory, the interpolator would not have used this phrase.

That leaves option 3. Let me repeat that I find no problem in envisioning some Christian copyist coming up with this phrase for the now-lost reference (the one called the Christ), probably under the influence of Matthew 1:16, and to convey the same idea. Here, then, we have a perfectly feasible chain of events explaining the presence of an interpolated reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20. It was put there, through process of imitation, by a Christian who simply lifted it from the lost reference, itself an earlier interpolation, probably in the Jewish War.

This second insertion (the scribe is casting about for a phrase, not composing an entire passage) may have served to satisfy someone who felt that 'a certain James,' or 'a man named James,' especially one whom Josephus had in no way linked to Jesus of Nazareth, could not stand without enlargement. Or, if the phrase 'brother of the Lord' (or some other description) had stood in Antiquities 20, the force of the earlier interpolation, perhaps triggered by the common word 'brother', could have led the copyist to replace Josephus designation with one considered more suitable. My preference now is to opt for the former. There is nothing so common in textual criticism as to recognize that scribes insert - perhaps beginning with a marginal glossclarifications and enlargements when they think such things are needed in the text. (In this particular case, since I am arguing for a process of imitation from the lost reference, the marginal gloss element would not apply.)

To judge by the common version of Origen and Eusebius (the one in Egypt, the other a little further north in Caesarea), both emendations were probably made in the east, perhaps in the latter 2nd century (or the Antiquities 20 interpolation may have been inserted a while later), to one of the few manuscript sets of Josephus that would have been circulating in Christian circles there. It is not surprising to find the chain proceeding from that dual emendation and ending up on the desks of two commentators working in the same area less than a century apart. As time went on, Christians gained control of all documentation, so that common knowledge and imitation eventually ensured that all new copies of the Antiquities would contain the now-accepted reference to James as brother of Jesus, the one called (the) Christ.


The Talmud


(1) The Talmud
The Talmud (literally, 'learning' or 'instruction') contains inconclusive evidence of Jesus. The Talmud is a massive compilation divided into two parts, the Mishna and the Gemara. The Mishna was codified by Rabbi Jehudah ha-Nasi circa 200 CE but was not actually committed to writing until the fifth century; it discusses numerous subjects, including festivals, sacred things, etc. The Gemarawas completed in the fifth century and is really a commentary on the Mishna.
The Talmud is often cited for evidence of the historical Jesus:
(i) The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) refers to Jesus being hanged on the eve of Passover. However this passage cannot be fixed at a definite date within the Tannaitic time-area and the value of this passage as independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus is therefore uncertain.
(ii) The Talmud's makes references to Jesus as 'Ben Pandera (or 'Ben Pantere')' and 'Jeshu ben Pandera'. However, as Herford observes this passage 'cannot be earlier than the beginning of the fourth century, and is moreover a report of what was said in Babylonia, not Palestine'. (Charles Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (1903, New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1975), p.41).
(iii) The Baraitha describes the hanging of Yeshu on the eve of Passover.

On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth) and the herald went before him for forty days saying (Yeshu of Nazareth) is going forth to be stoned in that he hath practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. Let everyone knowing aught in his defence come and plead for him. But they found naught in his defence and hanged him on the eve of Passover. (Babylonian Sanhedrin 43a).

Firstly, the passage cannot even be shown to be referring to the Jesus of the New Testament. Secondly, even if the passage does refer to that Jesus, it is of no help one way or the other in the question of the historicity of Jesus.
(iv) Following this Baraitha are some remarks of the Amora 'Ulla, a disciple of R. Yochanan and who lived in Palestine at the end of the third century.

Ulla said: And do you suppose that for [Yeshu of Nazareth] there was any right of appeal? He was a beguiler, and the Merciful One hath said: Thou shalt not spare neither shalt thou conceal him. It is otherwise with Yeshu, for he was near to the civil authority.

In view of the ignorance of both the date of these passages as well as the author's sources, these offer no support for Jesus' historicity.
(v) Sanhedrin 43a also makes references to the disciples of Jesus who are named as Mattai, Naqai, Netser, Buni and Todah. But these names cannot be identified with the New Testament list of disciples, so it is either fictional or is referring to disciples of the second generation, in which case it is simply a list of names of Christians, not a list of contemporaries of Jesus.
(vi)The reference to such-an-one as a bastard of an adulteress in the Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth 4.49a:

R. Shimeon ben Azzai said: 'I found a geneaological roll in Jerusalem wherein was recorded, Such-an-one is a bastard of an adulteress.

While some choose to interpret this as a reference to Jesus, there are good reasons to doubt that this passage represents an independent tradition about Jesus. First, the passage comes from the Babylonian Talmud, which dates to around the sixth century. Second, the gospel of Matthew begins with the words, 'The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ'. This 'genealogical roll' or 'Book of Pedigrees' may have been influenced by the gospels. Third, this passage fits the pattern of Rabbinical polemic. Thus this reference may not be based upon an independent source. Of course, it is also possible that this passage was based on independent sources. The available evidence does not favor one view over the other; thus, the passage is valuless as an independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus.
The Talmud can only provide independent confirmation of Jesus's existence if it relied on independent sources. Given the ignorance of the sources for the Talmud as well as its late date, it simply cannot be used as independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus.

(2) The Talmud
The present Talmud contains virtually no mention of Jesus. This is because there was much persecution of the Jews during the Middle Ages, and many Jews were afraid that the presence of the numerous unfavorable references to Jesus which existed in the Talmud of the time would bring down the additional wrath of the Christians.
These references were gradually eliminated, by agreement, during the many subsequent recopyings of the Talmud which occurred over the years. However, most of these references to Jesus have not been lost to our view, since they have been collected by scholars from ancient copies of the Talmud and republished several times.
If we look at the materials concerning Jesus which had been removed from the later copies of the Talmud, we can see that they say that he was a bastard and a magician who learned magic spells in Egypt or else stole the secret name of God from the temple and used it to work magic or miracles. The father of Jesus is also claimed to be a soldier named Pantera. At any rate, authorities are agreed that most of this Talmudic material derives from the period from 200 to 500 CE, and represents Jewish attempts to deal with the growing strength of Christianity. It makes no attempt to be historically accurate and, in fact, is of no use in determining if Jesus was an historical person.




(1) Tacitus
In the Annals of Tacitus, the Roman historian, there is another short passage which speaks of 'Christus' as being the founder of a party called Christians -- a body of people 'who were abhorred for their crimes.'

These words occur in Tacitus' account of the burning of Rome. The evidence for this passage is not much stronger than that for the passage in Josephus. It was not quoted by any writer before the fifteenth century; and when it was quoted, there was only one copy of the Annals in the world; and that copy was supposed to have been made in the eighth century, six hundred years after Tacitus' death. The 'Annals' were published between 115 and 117 CE, nearly a century after Jesus' time: so the passage, even if genuine, would not prove anything as to Jesus' historicity.

(2) Tacitus
In his Annals, Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 CE) writes that Christians

'derived their name and origin from Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate' (Annals 15.44)

It is probable that Tacitus may just be repeating what he was told by Christians about Jesus. If so, then this passage merely confirms that there were Christians in Tacitus' time, and that they believed that Pilate killed Jesus during the reign of Tiberius. This would not be independent confirmation of Jesus's existence. If, on the other hand, Tacitus found this information in Roman imperial records (to which he had access) then that could constitute independent confirmation. There are good reasons to doubt that Tacitus is working from Roman records here, however. For one, he refers to Pilate by the wrong title (Pilate was a prefect, not a procurator). Secondly, he refers to Jesus by the religious title 'Christos'. Roman records would not have referred to Jesus by a Christian title, but presumably by his given name. Thus, there is excellent reason to suppose that Tacitus is merely repeating what Christians said about Jesus, and so can tell us nothing new about Jesus's historicity.

(3) Tacitus
Cornelius Tacitus wrote his Annals after 117 A.D. Their exact date of composition is not know, but we do know that it was at least 70 years after Jesus' supposed crucifixion. Jesus is not mentioned by name anywhere in the extant works of Tacitus. There is one mention of 'Christus' in Book XV, Chapter 44, as follows:

Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated by the people for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race. (D.R. Dudley's translation)

While we know from the way in which the above is written that Tacitus did not claim to have firsthand knowledge of the origins of Christianity, we can see that he is repeating a story which was then commonly believed, namely that the founder of Christianity, one Christus, had been put to death under Tiberius. There are a number of serious difficulties which must be answered before this passage can be accepted as genuine. There is no other historical proof that Nero persecuted the Christians at all. There certainly were not multitudes of Christians in Rome at that date (circa 60 CE). In fact, the term 'Christian' was not in common use in the first century. We know Nero was indifferent to various religions in his city, and, since he almost definitely did not start the fire in Rome, he did not need any group to be his scapegoat. Tacitus does not use the name Jesus, and writes as if the reader would know the name Pontius Pilate, two things which show that Tacitus was not working from official records or writing for non-Christian audiences, both of which we would expect him to have done if the passage were genuine.
Perhaps most damning to the authenticity of this passage is the fact that it is present almost word-for-word in the Chronicle of Sulpicius Severus (died in 403 CE), where it is mixed in with obviously false tales. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that Sulpicius could have copied this passage from Tacitus, as none of his contemporaries mention the passage. This means that it was probably not in the Tacitus manuscripts at that date. It is much more likely, then, that copyists working in the Dark Ages from the only existing manuscript of the Chronicle, simply copied the passage from Sulpicius into the manuscript of Tacitus which they were reproducing.




(1) Suetonius
In his Lives of the Caesars, Suetonius, writing around 120 CE, states:

Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Emperor Claudius in 49 CE] expelled them from Rome.' (Claudius 5.25.4)

Occasionally this passage is cited as evidence for Jesus's historicity. However, there are serious problems with this interpretation. 'Chrestus' is the correct Latin form of an actual Greek name, and is not obviously a mispelling of 'Christus', meaning Christ. The passage seems to imply that there was actually someone named Chrestus at Rome at the time. This rules out a reference to Jesus. Even if Suetonius is referring to Christians in Rome, this only confirms the existence of Christians, not the existence of Jesus.
There is no doubt that there were Christians in Rome during the first century CE but this of course does not imply that Jesus actually lived during the first half of this century. Thus, Suetonius fails to confirm the historicity of Jesus.

(2) Suetonius
In the case of 'Chrestus' mentioned by Suetonius in Life of the Caesars, the word is not, despite the claims made, another spelling of Christus. 'Chrestus' means 'The Good' in Greek, while 'Christus' means 'The Messiah'. Chrestus was not an uncommon name in ancient Rome. Since Jesus was admittedly not in Rome instigating the Jews, we are almost definitely talking about someone other than Jesus here. I should mention that the entire relevant quotation from Suetonius which is involved here reads as follows: ';As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome'. The 'he' is Claudius. No Christian will suggest that Jesus was at Rome in 55 CE, when this incident is alleged to have occurred. It is also difficult to see why Jews would be led by Jesus. That is pretty strong evidence that this passage does not refer to Jesus of Nazareth at all, and so is irrelevant to the discussion of whether Jesus ever lived. We can, however, add the lack of a mention of Jesus in Suetonius to our list of 'negative' evidence for the existence of Jesus as an historical person.




(1) Thallus
In a lost work referred to by Julius Africanus in the third century, the pagan writer Thallus reportedly claimed that Jesus's death was accompanied by an earthquake and darkness. However, the original text is in fact lost, and we can confirm neither the contents of the text or its date. It is possible that Thallus was merely repeating what was told to him by Christians, or that the passage which Africanus cites is a later interpolation. Outside of the New Testament, no other references to earthquakes or unusual darkness occur in the contemporary literature. This is very surprising, given the effect these sorts of events would presumably have had on the populace.

(2) Thallus
The testimony (supposed, as the work in question is now lost) of Thallus is also worthless on the historicity question. Julius Africanus, in a surviving fragment, states that Thallus in the period before 221 CE, wrote that the darkness which supposedly covered the earth at the time of the Crucifixion was due to the death of Jesus. He is merely telling what the Christians of the time believed. We have no evidence at all that there ever even was an eclipse at the time when Jesus was supposedly crucified.


Pliny the Younger


(1) Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger, writing in the first decade(s) of the 1st century CE, corresponded regularly with the emperor Trajan. In these writings, Pliny specifically mentions and describes the beliefs and practices of Christians in Asia Minor, and asks Trajan's advice about what action to take against them, if any. However, Pliny's writings provide no independent confirmation of the events of the New Testament, but merely show that there were indeed Christians living in Asia Minor.

(2) Pliny the Younger
In the case of claiming that Pliny is 'a decisive source for the historicity of Jesus' and that the Christians and ex-Christians whom he interrogated believed their ethical principles to be Jesus' teachings. These principles are specified in Pliny's letter as 'not to commit theft or robbery or adultery, not to break their word, and not to deny a deposit when demanded'. Most of this is already in the Decalogue and so is not even specifically Christian. That such behaviour was believed to be required by the Christian god does not make it teaching of a historical Jesus of Nazareth.

Pliny's interrogations occurred ca. 112 CE By then gospels had been written, and so the defendants may have known of the story that Jesus had lived as a man in Palestine, although Pliny does not suggest that they told him as much. However, if his testimony is to be accepted as 'decisive' for Jesus' historicity, he must have known of Jesus' life independently of Christian testimony and so before what he heard from Christians in 112 CE. Pliny does not suggest that, before reaching his province as governor, he knew enough of Christianity to distinguish Christians from non-Christians. He did not himself recognize the persons brought before him to be Christians, but questioned them only because other people had denounced them as Christians (ad me tamquam Christiani deferebantur). The ecclesiastical historian W.H.C. Frend states the position well: 'Pliny writes as though he knew that there were such people as Christians, and that they committed crimes, but otherwise had to learn as the inquiry proceeded' (Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church Oxford: Blackwell, 1965, p.220).

Some of those who claimed to have already relinquished their faith told Pliny that theirs had been a religious cult, 'the whole of whose guilt' consisted in meeting before daybreak on a certain fixed day to sing 'a hymn to Christ as a god'. What they thereby meant to affirm was that this was all perfectly harmless and not to be held against them as 'guilt' at all. It was the persons under interrogation, not the governor, who volunteered the information that Christians worshipped Christ as a god. All that Pliny's response shows is that he regarded this Christ as a fanciful addition to the traditional gods of Rome whom (as we know from other of his writings) he respected. As we saw, his inquiries convinced him that Christianity was 'an extravagant superstition'. This does not commit him to the view that Christ had been a historical personage.

(3) Pliny the Younger
The 'evidence' quoted from Pliny Secundus (Pliny the Younger) is also of dubious value for determining whether Jesus was historical. The work (written in about 112 CE) states that Christians were singing a 'hymn to Christ as to a god...'. Of course, that may well have occurred, but how that fact reflects upon the historicity of Jesus, I and the other authorities consulted are at a loss to understand. The fact that believers seventy years later acted as if Christ were a god tells us nothing of whether Jesus was an actual person on this earth. Jesus is neither the same idea as Christ (the messiah) nor is the fact that people believed something to be true any evidence as to whether it was true.




In sum, the evidence for the historical evidence for Jesus is non-existent:
1) There are no proven, legitimate references to the existence of Jesus in any contemporary source outside of the New Testament.
2) The New Testament accounts do not provide a real 'biography' for Jesus. The early writings imply only that he was a divine figure and consistently fail to locate Jesus in any chronological setting; they also fail to cite those sayings attributed to him in the (later) Gospels, even when they are wholly applicable.
3) The existence of Jesus is not necessary to explain the origin or growth of Christianity.