Evidence for the Existence of Jesus – Extra Biblical Sources 2

28 02 2009

Last week I gave you the first three extra-Biblical sources that attest the the life of the actual person by the name of Jesus. As I mentioned last week, many these days are making claims that Jesus never existed. Even this week, in a discussion online, one of the people with whom I am interacting brought up this issue again by claiming that “scholars” question the veracity of the existence of Jesus. I assure you that the term scholar here is a loose term as there may be scholars who raise this question, but few, if any, are scholars in the field of historical New Testament study. There are plenty of scholars, even atheist scholars in the field of historic New Testament study who would put these questioners in the fringe camp. The historic existence of Jesus of Nazareth is not widely questioned among scholars in the field.

Today I will present a few more extra-Biblical sources that give attestation to Jesus’ life and that of the early church. Why am I starting with extra-Biblical sources rather than the Bible? Mainly because skeptics are quicker to dismiss the Bible than they would be sources outside of the Bible whom they would not believe would have an ax to grind. Later, we will look at the historical reliability of the Bible as an ancient text and the reliability of the witness contained therein. Last week we looked at Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus, showing them to be credible sources of historical information, this week we will look at four additional sources: Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan, and the Jewish Talmud.

Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor around 112 AD:

“[The Christians] 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.”

Mentions the fact that Christians and sang hymns to Christ as God, as well as moral commitments that they made. He also expresses in his letters that the teachings of Jesus and the disciples was excessive and contagious superstition.

Emperor Trajan, in reply to Pliny:

“The method you have pursued, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those denounced to you as Christians is extremely proper. It is not possible to lay down any general rule which can be applied as the fixed standard in all cases of this nature. No search should be made for these people; when they are denounced and found guilty they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that when the party denies himself to be a Christian, and shall give proof that he is not (that is, by adoring our gods) he shall be pardoned on the ground of repentance, even though he may have formerly incurred suspicion. Information without the accuser’s name subscribed must not be admitted in evidence against anyone, as it is introducing a very dangerous precedent, and by no means agreeable to the spirit of the age.”

Although this excerpt does not mention Jesus directly, it does speak to the persecution of the early church for not worshiping the gods of Rome.

The Jewish Talmud, compiled between 70 and 200 AD:

“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.”

Mentions Jesus crucifixion (hanged) on the eve of the Passover.

Again, these are early sources that give attestation to the facts set forth in the Gospel accounts and that all fill in some of the history that we know about the treatment of the early church. I set this forth as more and more people these days are expressing doubts about the veracity of Jesus life and the facts of the early church. Our best evidence, however, is from the New Testament accounts, and in coming weeks I will give evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament writings that we have.

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