NEW TESTAMENT ANALYSIS

THE HISTORICAL REFERENCES TO JESUS

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ANCIENT  REFERENCES  TO  JESUS

 

Other Sources

Christians make much of the few non-Christian references to Jesus.  As you shall see below, none of these sources are sufficient evidence to prove that there was an historical Jesus; viz., historical enough to overturn the speculation of some scholars that the legend was seeded by an Essene teacher executed around 100 BC.  As I have shown in History of Christ, [put link here] the silence of Paul in his Epistles is prima facie evidence for the Gospels being too unreliable to be considered a source for the life or for the teachings of Jesus.  The Pagan sources are no help to the Christians. 

         Flavius Josephus - c90CE

         Suetonius - c120CE

         Tactitus - 110CE

         Pliny - c110CE

         Thallus - cited in c300CE

         Talmud - 200-500CE

         'Acts of Pilate'

The Josephus passage is among the most celebrated as proving that Jesus existed:

"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." (Antiquities XVIII 63f)


At first glance, this appears to be a very good source for the historical existence of Jesus.  However, Josephus was a Jewish priest of high position and a general in the revolt against Rome.  Given that in his long history of the Jews, there is no indication (other than this passage) that he was anything but an orthodox Jewish priest.  And being such there is no way that he would have written such an account of one whom he would in no ways have considered the long awaited for Messiah of the Jews, a Messiah who would reestablish the Jewish state.  The conflict between this passage and the rest of the book is strong evidence for the conclusion that the passage was an interpolation by a Christian scribea common practice.  Futhermore, up until the 4th Century there are no mentions of Josephus having written about Jesus in this way. None of the Christian Church Fathers mentioned Josephus as having written about Jesus, and they specifically addressed in their writing the topic of Pagan sources on the life of Jesus.  Justin Martyr and Origen, among others undoubtedly were familiar with Josephus history and would have been glad to use it to answer Pagan and Jewish critics.  They did not, however, no mention of it at all.  Origen actually said that Josephus did not acknowledge Jesus.  The reasonable conclusion is that the passage is an interpolation done after the 4th century. 

Suetonius wrote:

"Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome". Life of Claudius (XXv.4)


Who was Chrestus, since the term was not Latin for Christians? First, Suetonius spelt "Christians" correctly later in his book.    'Chrestus' is the correct Latin form of an actual Greek name.  Perhaps Chrestus was a Jewish fanatic whose instigations got them expelled from Rome at about 49CE. 

Tactitus wrote that:

"Consequently ... 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 during the reign of Tiberias at the hands of the Procurator Pontius Pilatus, and a deadly superstition, thus checked for a moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City." Annals (XV.44.2-8)

 

This passage it has been noted is informing his Roman audience about what was commonly said of Jesus.  There is no indication that this passage is the product of Tacitus research in the death of Jesus.  His silence on the topic of the Messiah indicates that if this passage is genuine, that Tacitus did not, nor his audience, believe Jesus to be the Jehovahs profit.  The section is about the depravity of Nero.  This particular piece is not quoted before the 15th Century, and when it was quoted, there was supposed to be only one copy of the 'Annals' in the world, made in the eighth century (600 years after Tacitus' death).  Further evidence of an interpolation is that Tacitus would not have refered to Pilate as a Procurator, when he was a Prefect.

Pliny wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan saying:

"They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: that they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery ..."


He was asking Trajan to advise him what action to take against Christians living in Asia Minor.  He proves that there were Christians there, but not that Jesus ever existed.

Thallus is said to have written that Jesus' death was accompanied by earthquake and darkness.  His original work has been lost and it was cited only in Julius Africanus' work in the third century. This is the only reference to unusual meterological events occuring after the death of Jesus outside the New Testament, which is strange as such things were routinely recorded. It is impossible to determine whether Thallus actually wrote this, or that it was an interpolation. 

The Talmud says Jesus was the illegitemate son of a Roman soldier called Pandera (or Pandira) who worked magic. However, most of that material derives from 200-500CE and is the Jewish reaction to the spread of Christianity. It is not a contemporary reference but a reaction to a movement. There are several other like passage, all of them equally unflattering.  (For anti-Christian parts of the Talmud, including those referring to Jesus, refuted, please see http://crnews.pastornet.net.au/jmm/aasi/aasi0151.htm)

Many Christians also make reference to the "Acts of Pilate" whicih Justin Martyr said was Pilate's report to Rome of the crucifixion of Jesus. Several other early church writers also referred to this, including Euseubius, who said there was a forged copy of that report circulating in his day. At the present time, the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus claims to have this report within it, and there is also another report. The second report, called " The letter of Pontius Pilate which he wrote to the Roman Emperor, concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. is thought by most historians to have been written in the fifth century. The Gospel of Nicodemus is thought to have been written c150-200 which leaves a small possibility that it has a copy of the report of Pilate in it, but the gospel is not accepted by most Christians as being authentic, and most historians doubt that it has the report of Pilate either.

There are some other historical sources, but these are the main (and earliest) ones, so I will not cover them. There is a possibility that Jesus did exist, as vouchsafed by the historical evidence, but the practise of the Christian church in destroying records of Jesus (at one time, anyone attempting to preserve writings which were hostile to him was subject to the death penalty) and of falsifying various others (such as Josephus) has paradoxically made it unlikely we will ever be able to say with certainty that Jesus existed.

 

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