Secular and Non-christian ancient writers were made witnesses without even knowing it. Now it is easy for these and any ancient account to be attacked but think about this: We talk about and teach about Plato as if he was a real person of history who lived and taught around 400-300BC; yet the oldest manuscript we have of ‘his’ is around 800AD. That is roughly a 1,200 year separation. Yet, historians consider mentions about him in other earlier ancient writings as creditable and useful. Below are lists of mentions of Jesus that are within 17-115 years after Jesus. Closer and more reliable than most sources of other ancient persons and are accepted as reliable.
Quick and Simple History Lesson:
Initially Jesus was a no body. Later in his life crowds of Jews followed him (and some Romans). And then he was put to death. So from 3-35AD no one would have really known anything about this guy name Jesus out side of that local region.
Then suddenly, the apostles and others were going around saying he rose from the dead and came to them. The Jews admit there was no body found and Rome could care less. As the news spread (without internet or cell phones) apostles and disciples made it to Rome, Africa, Asia minor, and continue to teach what this unknown guy Jesus taught and did.
Meanwhile the known world is caring more about the Jewish Revolt (its second attempt against Rome). In 70AD Rome got tired of Israel and their riots and destroys their capital Jerusalem.
By this time with that problem gone, Roman citizens were converting to Christianity, and it is becoming more talked about publicly. For a Syrian Philosopher in 70AD to know about Jesus, for Jewish and Roman Historians to recognize Jesus as history, and for a comedian to feel the need to patronize a religion; it was growing.
Its not until after Jesus’ death that he gets talked about and focused on outside of the broad region he and his apostles came out of.
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and 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.” (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)
Julius Africanus quoted this because the date of this event coincides with the crucifixion of Jesus. The same darkness and earthquake that occurred when Jesus died on the cross as recorded by scripture.
Mara Bar-Serapion wrote around 70AD (~35 years after Jesus); He was a Syrian philosopher who was writing to his son. He used real life examples of the persecution people have faced wrongly for their beliefs. He uses Athenians against Socrates to death, the people of Samos against Pythagoras and then states:
“…Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?…After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted.”
The Jews never murdered their kings of the past. Jesus however was mockingly called “king of the Jews” on the cross. It was an argument that even Jewish leadership used to get Rome to approve his crucifixion. 35 years after Jesus was murdered, Rome destroyed Jerusalem. But “the wise King lived on in the teachings he enacted”. Thus Serapion was indirectly stating that Jesus was a real person of history, that his death was wrong, and that his teachings that he enacted are still taught and lived out.
Flavius Josephus (37-101AD; wrote ~45 years after Jesus) was a Jewish Historian whom was captured by Romans in Jerusalem, taken to Rome, and was freed. There he wrote his books. In one of his books he talks about Jesus. This is called the Testimonium. Down through history though it is argued that Christians added to his writings and the Testimonium. Two researchers, Edwin Yamauchi and John P. Meier, have constructed a copy of the “Testimonium” with the probable Christian insertions removed. In parentheses are what is found in the Arabic manuscript. The following paragraph is Yamauchi’s:
“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man (And his conduct was good and he was kown to be virtiucous) For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. (They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive). And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”
Keeping in mind, Jesus was respected as a person and as a teacher in Jewish history until Christianity grew. It was not until later in history that Jewish Rabbis began slandering him and writing negative things about. Removing all positive statements about Jesus and assuming they were imputations by Christians is anti-christian bias in itself. Jews would have been positive about Jesus in Josephus’ day. They would however disagree on his actual resurrection but would not disagree that his apostles would claim he did. The reconstructed Testimonium above is what a Jewish historian would have said without Christian bias in that day.
In another place we see another mention of Jesus and an important identifier:
“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James,”
Jesus was a common name in that culture at that time. To know which person was the subject, the author would attach a family name or in this case a notable related person. Here Josephus attaches ‘of Jesus’ to the subject but because that was still a common name, he includes which Jesus, “who was called Christ”. This is not an affirmation of belief. Josephus did not believe that Jesus was Christ but he records that Jesus “was called” Christ. Thus this is how his readers would know which James he was talking about.
In this record we see that Jesus was an actual person of history and was in fact crucified. That his disciples fell away after he was crucified but then later reported Jesus appearing to them. This account (minus any kind of imputation suspicion) validates the synoptic gospel accounts.
Cornelius Tacitus (56-120AD); a very trusted Roman historian, senator, proconsul of Asia, and defiantly a non-christian who wrote around 116AD (~80 years after Jesus) an interesting statement about Christianity
“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 Judea, 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.”
From this statement alone we can learn a lot about Christianity. There was a class of people called Christians who got their name from someone who was named Christus. He suffered the extreme penalty during a specific and actual time of Pontius Pilatus. Christians also had a very “mischievous superstition” about this Christus guy. And that this class of people first started in Judea and spread to Rome.
Anyone who claims Jesus never existed or was not crucified must then disprove Tacitus. The problem is that Tacitus is proven reliable and is a major source for a majority our knowledge about ancient Rome. To question him is to question most of what we know about Roman history now.
Pliny the Younger (61-113AD; ~65 years after Jesus) a Roman non-christian wrote a letter to emperor Trajan and mentioned some things about Christianity. He states:
“They (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”
Pliny can tell that these Christians have a ‘fixed day’ of the week in the morning where they meet up and sing “to Christ, as to a god”. Pliny unknowingly records that Christians worship Jesus Christ as God. He also shows that Christians met up on a selected day (Sunday) in the mornings, “before it was light”.
Suetonius (69-140AD) a Roman historian records how Christians were treated in Roman society. He mentioned a disturbance in Rome around 49AD (~14 years after Jesus) and then the fire of Rome in 64AD where Nero blamed the Christians.
“Because the Jews at Rome caused constant disturbances at the
instigation of Chrestus (Christ), he (Claudius) expelled them from the
city (Rome).” (Life of Claudius, 25:4)
“Nero inflicted punishment on the Christians, a sect given to a new and
mischievous religious belief.” (Lives of the Caesars, 26.2)
Suetonius even states that the Christian religion is “new”. Rome was a mecca of culture of that time. He would be fully aware of Egyptian religions, Babylonian religions, and other eastern religions including Greek and Romes’ own; yet, Christianity was “new”. The disturbance of 49AD was also recorded by Luke in Acts 18:2
Lucian of Samosata (120-180AD; ~115 years after Jesus) was a satirist and Roman comedian who very negative and sarcastically critical of Christians. He wrote several books and in a negative since, affirms Christianity. He states:
“The Christians. . . worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced this new cult, and was crucified on that account. . . . You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains their contempt for death and self devotion . . . their lawgiver [taught] they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take on faith”
Just from his derogatory account we still see that Christians worshiped Jesus as God. That Jesus was in fact a real person of history and was crucified. He also states that Christianity is “new” and not just a blend of past religions.
The Jewish (Babylonian) Talmud was written around 375 to 427 AD. It records that Jesus was crucified in Sanhedrin 43 and that he had close disciples.
“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu (Jewish for Jesus) 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 practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!35 — Ulla retorted: ‘Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defence”
“Our rabbis taught Jesus the Nazarene had five disciples, and these are they: Matthai, Naqqai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah:
In other places of Jewish texts we see more mentions of Jesus:
Shabboth 14:4/8 – “someone … whispered to him in the name of Jesus son of Pandera”
Abodah Zarah 17a – “One of the disciples of Jesus the Nazarene found me”
Sanhedrin 103a – “that you will not have a son or disciple … like Jesus the Nazarene”
Sanhedrin 107b – “The master said: Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic
We can almost see a negative expression of the gospel. Jesus had disciples and went around doing unexplainable things (which Jews understood them to be sorcery and magic). People were healed in his name and Jesus was later “hanged” on the eve of Passover. This account supports the synoptic gospels accounts.
Why are there no writings of Jesus (out side of the bible) while he was alive?
A valid question. Joseph Caiaphas was the Chief Priest during the time of Jesus. According to the apostles he organized the trial of Jesus. Josephus records that he was the son of Annas who was deposed and Caiaphas was then appointed by Roman authorities. There is no mention of him ever writing anything. Pontius Pilate is mentioned by Roman, Jewish, and Christian historians is who presided over the trial of Jesus. By Jewish accounts he was very insensitive to Jewish culture but tried to maintain order. A document called Acts of Pilate is a later writing has no authentic qualities or support. Besides this later attempt to attach his name to a document, there are no known authentic writings from him. As mentioned in the introduction; during this time, he was a no body. It was not until he did what he did and told his followers to go make it known that things started to be recorded. God made him the only voice during this time. The apostles were his writers during the time he was alive.
The synoptic gospels are supported by the outside biblical sources above and by archeologically findings. Secular modern historians like EP Sanders, Michael Grant, and Maurice Casey, find the synoptic gospels to be historically reliable. Thus, the synoptic gospels are the written account of Jesus while he was alive.
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