November 15, 2015

Five, First-Century, Non-Biblical, Historical References to Jesus of Nazareth


One assertion detractors of Christianity make to sow seeds of doubt about Jesus is the alleged lack of historical evidence for Christ's existence – outside of Sacred Scripture. Such pronouncements are laughable of course. Below are five, first-century, non-biblical, historical references to Jesus of Nazareth.

Publius Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 c. AD) was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. His two major works, the Annals and the Histories, record the reigns of seven Roman Emperors: Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who ruled in the Year of the Four Emperors (69 AD). These works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in 14 AD to the 1st Jewish – Roman War in 70 AD.

In the Annals, [XV,44] Tacitus mentions the death of Christ and the existence of Christians in Rome at the time of the great fire:
But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities.  Christus, the founder of the 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, but through the city of Rome also. 
The misspelling of Christ as "Christus" (from the Latin) was common among pagan writers. Moreover, Tacitus writes that Christ was "put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius", corroborating the Gospel accounts.

Pliny the Younger – Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (61-113 c. AD) was a lawyer, writer and magistrate of Ancient Rome. As governor of Bithynia, (112 AD) he wrote to Emperor Trajan seeking guidance in dealing with the Christian population. He recounts that in killing Christian men, women and children – many choose death over bowing down to an image of the emperor or being forced to "curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do." [Epistles X, 96]

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (69-122 c. AD) was a Roman historian (belonging to the equestrian order) and court official during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. His most notable surviving work De vita Caesarum, (The Twelve Caesars) chronicles the reigns of the first twelve emperors of the Roman Empire beginning with Julius Caesar.

In his Life of Claudius, [25.4] Suetonius wrote: "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." Here, "Chrestus" is a misspelling of "Christus". (Acts 18:2 discusses Claudius' expulsion of Christians form Rome.) In Lives of the Caesars, Suetonius portrays Christians being persecuted for their belief in Christ less than twenty years after the Crucifixion. He writes: "Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition."

Titus Flavius Josephus (37-100 c. AD) was a first-century Roman-Jewish scholar and historian. He mentions Jesus twice in his Jewish Antiquities. In one, Josephus notes the condemnation of James by the Sanhedrin. Josephus identifies James as "the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ." (Paul describes James in Galatians 1:19 similarly.) The second reference to Jesus is the subject of much debate. Josephus is alleged to have written:
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.
Most scholars agree the bulk of the passage is from Josephus. The references to Christ, however, were most likely redacted by a later Christian editor.

The Babylonian Talmud (70-500 AD)

The Babylonian Talmud, a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings between the first and sixth centuries, references Jesus briefly:
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald... cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.'
Jesus' name in Hebrew is "Yeshu". The reference to his being "hanged" is a colloquial euphemism for Crucifixion.
No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus.  
— Otto Betz

There are more mentions of Jesus by writers of this period verifying the historicity of Christ. Additionally, a number of first-century works have been lost to antiquity. We know of their references to Jesus thanks to later commentators who mention them.

1 comment :

lexie robinson said...

This is super interesting! Thanks for sharing.