HISTORICITY OF JESUS

SECULAR EVIDENCE

CORNELIUS TACITUS (55 – 120 A.D.) Tacitus was a 1st and 2nd century Roman historian who lived through the reigns of over half a dozen
Roman emperors. Considered one of the greatest historians of ancient Rome, Tacitus verifies the Biblical account of Jesus’ execution at the
hands of Pontius Pilate who governed Judea from 26-36 A.D. during the reign of Tiberius.
“Christus, the founder of the [Christian] name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius. But the
pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, by through the city of
Rome also.” 
Annals XV, 44

What this passage reveals and how it confirms the Biblical account:

  • Jesus did exist
  • Jesus was the founder of Christianity
  • Jesus was put to death by Pilate
  • Christianity originated in Judea (With Jesus)
  • Christianity later spread to Rome (Through the Apostles and Evangelists)
 
GAIUS SUETONIUS TRANQUILLUS (69 – 130 A.D.) Suetonius was a prominent Roman historian who recorded the lives of the Roman
Caesars and the historical events surrounding their reigns. He served as a court official under Hadrian and as an annalist for the Imperial
House. Suetonius records the expulsion of the Christian Jews from Rome (mentioned in 
Acts 18:2) and confirms the Christian faith being
founded by Christ.
“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.” Life of Claudius 25.4

THALLUS (~ 52 A.D.) Although his works exist only in fragments, Julius Africanus debates Thallus’ explanation of the midday darkness which
occurred during the Passover of Jesus’ crucifixion. Thallus tries to dismiss the darkness as a natural occurrence (a solar eclipse) but Africanus
argues (and any astronomer can confirm) a solar eclipse cannot physically occur during a full moon due to the alignment of the planets.
Phlegon of Tralles, a 2nd century secular historian, also mentions the darkness and tries to dismiss it as a solar eclipse. He also states the
event occurred during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness. The rocks were rent by an earthquake and many places in Judea and other
districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the
sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the
passover. But an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time… Phlegon
records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth-manifestly that one
of which we speak. 
Chronography XVIII, 47

PLINY THE YOUNGER (63 – 113 A.D) Pliny the Younger admits to torturing and executing Christians who refused to deny Christ. Those who
denied the charges were spared and ordered to exalt the Roman gods and curse the name of Christ. Pliny addresses his concerns to Emperor
Trajan that too many citizens were being killed for their refusal to deny their faith.
“I asked them directly if they were Christians…those who persisted, I ordered away… Those who denied they were or ever had been
Christians…worshiped both your image and the images of the gods and cursed Christ. They used to gather on a stated day before dawn and
sing to Christ as if he were a god… All the more I believed it necessary to find out what was the truth from two servant maids, which were
called deaconesses, by means of torture. Nothing more did I find than a disgusting, fanatical superstition. Therefore I stopped the examination,
and hastened to consult you…on account of the number of people endangered. For many of all ages, all classes, and both sexes already are
brought into danger…” 
Pliny’s letter to Emperor Trajan

Though Pliny states some of the accused denied the charges, a recurring theme in the correspondence between Pliny and Trajan is the
willingness of the true believer to die for Christ. This would hardly be reasonable if they knew He never existed!


CELSUS (~ 178 A.D.) Celsus was a second century Roman author and avid opponent of Christianity. He went to great lengths to disprove the
divinity of Jesus yet never denied His actual existence. Unfortunately for Celsus, he sets himself up for criticism by mimicking the exact
accusations brought against Jesus by the pharisees which had already been addressed and refuted in the New Testament. There are two very
important facts regarding Celsus which make him one of the most important witnesses in this discussion:

  • Though most secular passages are accused of being Christian interpolations, we can accept with certainty this is not the case with
    Celsus! The sheer volume of his writings (specifically designed to discredit Christianity) coupled with the hostile accusations presented
    in his work dismiss this chance immediately.
  • The idea of Celsus getting his information entirely from Christian sources (another recurring accusation against secular evidence) is
    wholly absurd. Though he is obviously aware of his opponents’ beliefs (as anyone who is engaging in a debate should be), Celsus wrote
    his exposition in the form of a dialogue between a “Jewish Critic” and himself. This gives us cause to believe he used non-Christian
    (probably Jewish) sources.


On Jesus’ Miracles: “Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain [magical] powers… He
returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god… It was by means of
sorcery that He was able to accomplish the wonders which He performed… Let us believe that these cures, or the resurrection, or the feeding
of a multitude with a few loaves… These are nothing more than the tricks of jugglers… It is by the names of certain demons, and by the use of
incantations, that the Christians appear to be possessed of 
[miraculous] power…”

 
LUCIAN OF SAMOSATA (120 – ~180 A.D.) Lucian was a second century Greek satirist and rhetorician who scornfully describes his views of
early Christianity. Though he ridicules the Christians and their Christ, his writings confirm Jesus was executed via crucifixion and that He was
the founder of Christianity.
“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day- the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that
account… It was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers from the moment they are converted and deny the
gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws…” 
The Death of Peregrinus 11-13

What this passage reveals and how it confirms the Biblical account:

  • Jesus did exist
  • Jesus was the founder of Christianity
  • Jesus was worshiped by His followers
  • Jesus suffered death by crucifixion
 
JEWISH EVIDENCE
 
FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS (37 – 100 A.D.) Josephus was a first century pharisee and historian of both priestly and royal ancestry who provided
important insight into first-century Judaism
. Josephus was born only three years after the crucifixion of Jesus, making him a credible witness to
the historicity of Jesus.
“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 tribes of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.” Antiquities XVIII, 3:2

 
THE BABYLONIAN TALMUD The Babylonian Talmud is an ancient record of Jewish history, laws, and rabbinic teachings compiled throughout
the centuries. Though it does not accept the divinity of Jesus, it confirms the belief He was hanged (an idiom for crucifixion) on the eve of the
Passover.
“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu (Jesus) [Some texts: Yeshu/Jesus the Nazarene] was hanged [crucified]. Forty days before the execution, a
herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one 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.”

 
CHRISTIAN EVIDENCE
 

CLEMENT OF ROME (? – 98? A.D.) Clement was a bishop of Rome and later became known as the fourth pope. He was eventually martyred
in approximately 98 A.D. Some speculate Paul was referring to Clement in Philippians 4:3 but this cannot be proven. Clement was a first
century apostolic author which gives credence to his first-hand account of early Christianity. In the passage below, Clement confirms the
ministry of the disciples and some of the basic tenets of early Christianity.
“The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the
Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and being fully
assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God will full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went
forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their first fruits,
when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.” 
Corinthians 42

 
IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH (? – ~100 A.D) Ignatius was a Bishop of Antioch reported to have been appointed to his position by Peter of whom
he was a disciple. He is also believed to be a disciple of Paul and John. Ignatius was arrested by the Romans and executed as a martyr in the
arena. Even though his testimony would ultimately lead to his death, Ignatius was adamant about the things he witnessed. He reinforces early
Christian beliefs in the letters he penned while in prison. Even when execution was imminent, Ignatius refused to recant his faith.
“Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under
Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and those under the earth. Who moreover was truly
raised from the dead, His father having raised Him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe in Him.” 
Trallians

“He is truly of the race of David according to the flesh but Son of God by the Divine will and powered, truly born of a virgin and baptized by
John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him, truly nailed up in the flesh for our sakes under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch…
That He might set up an ensign unto all ages through His resurrection.” 
Smyrneans, 1

“Be ye fully persuaded concerning the birth and the passion and the resurrection, which took place in the time of the governorship of Pontius
Pilate. For these things were truly and certainly done by Jesus Christ our hope.”
 Magnesians XI

 
JUSTIN MARTYR (~100 – 165 A.D.) Justin Martyr, possibly the most well-known early Christian apologist, was an educated pagan
philosopher who converted to Christianity around 130 A.D. Though he risked losing his wealth, status, and life, Justin fearlessly spread
Christianity throughout Asia Minor and Rome. Refusing to recant his testimony, he was led to his death via scourging and beheading in 165 A.
D. Being a thoroughly educated man, Justin weighed the evidence carefully before accepting his new faith and explains to the reader he made
his decision only after careful consideration and research.
There is a village in Judea, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ was born, as you can see from the tax registers under
Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judea
… He was born of a virgin as a man, and was named Jesus, and was crucified, and died, and rose
again, and ascended into heaven… After He was crucified, all His acquaintances denied Him. But once He had risen from the dead and
appeared to them and explained the prophecies which foretold all these things and ascended into heaven, the apostles believed. They received
the power given to them by Jesus and went into the world preaching the Gospel.” 
First Apology, 34, 46, 50

“At the time of His birth, Magi from Arabia came and worshipped Him, coming first to Herod, who was then sovereign in your land… When they
crucified Him, driving in the nails, they pierced His hands and feet. Those who crucified Him parted His garments among themselves, each
casting lots… But you did not repent after you learned that He rose from the dead. 
Instead, you sent men into to the world to proclaim that a
godless heresy had sprung from Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom was crucified and that His disciples stole His body from the tomb in order to
deceive men by claiming He had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven.
” Dialogue with Trypho, 77 97, 107-8

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