Evidence for the Existence of Jesus – Extra-Biblical Sources 1

23 02 2009

Today I would like to discuss an exchange that I have been engaged in recently with a group of skeptics who deny that Jesus was a historical person. The original poster on this thread said that he was having a hard time denying that Jesus was real. My response to him was that he has reason to be troubled about denying that Jesus was a real person since he was a real person. I told him that if he didn’t want to start with the Bible for evidence, he could look to extra-Biblical sources. So, over the next few weeks I will give the evidence as to why most scholars, even liberal ones, believe that Jesus was a historical person. As with the poster, I will begin with the extra-Biblical sources since non-believers seem to put more trust in them than they do the NT sources; however, in future posts I will also give evidence as to why we can trust the NT as a valid source for historical information about Jesus. Due to the length of some of these quotes, I will only give a few each week.

Source 1: Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 A.D.), Roman Historian

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 during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

  • This passage discusses the early Christians; Christus (Christ), from whom they they derived their name, and the early persecutions and the charge on which it was based.

Source 2: Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas (117-138 AD), Chief Secretary of Emperor Hadrian

Because the Jews of Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] expelled them from the city.”

After the great fire at Rome [during Nero’s reign] … Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.

  • Mentions Chrestus (Christ) and the punishments of Christians for supposedly buring Rome.

Source 3: Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD), Court Historian for Emperor Vespasian:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

  • Mentions Jesus, his crucifixion, the disciples mentions that the disciples reported seeing him alive after his crucifixion, perhaps was the messiah.
  • Note: there is a disputed passage of Josephus’ writings that may have been altered by Christians who were the keepers of many documents of antiquity; however, this passage is not that one and is not considered be in dispute as to embellishment. In other words, some skeptics will want to throw out all of Josephus because a passage was added to; yet, that should not be done since we know what is authentic and what is not. This passage is believed by most scholars to be the authentic account of Josephus.

I hope that gives you a taste of some of the historic extra-Biblical accounts that testify to Jesus as a person from history. I will give you more accounts next week.

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