The Corroborating Evidence

Is There Credible Evidence for Jesus Outside the New Testament?

 

Is There Credible Evidence for Jesus Outside the New Testament?

  • nIn his essay “Why I Am Not a Christian,” philosopher Bertrand Russell asserts, Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him.” (p.16) n
  • nIs this really true? n
  • n“The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories.” (F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable, 1972, p.119)
  • nCornelius Tacitus, TAS ih tus, (c. A.D. 55-120) was a Roman historian who has been called the ‘greatest historian of ancient Rome’, an individual generally acknowledged among scholars for his ‘moral integrity and essential goodness.’ (Gary Habermas, The Verdict of History, 1988, p.87)
    nWriting of the reign of Nero, Tacitus alludes to the death of Christ and the existence of Christians at Rome. His misspelling of Christ – “Christus” – was a common error made by pagan writers. Says Tacitus:
    n“[Nero] punished with the 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.” (Annals XV, 44)

     

  • nLucian of Samosia – a Greek satirist of the latter half of the second century, Lucian spoke scornfully of Christ and Christians, never assuming or arguing that they were unreal. Lucian says:
  • n“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, 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 the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then 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. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them as mere common property.” (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13)

     

    Josephus (A.D. 37-100) - an early Jewish historian

    Refers to James as the “brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ” (The Antiquities 20.200)

    Pliny the Younger – Governor of Bithynia (A.D. 112)

    Attests to the rapid spread of Christianity, both in the city and in the rural area, among every class of persons, slave women as well as Roman citizens. (Letters 10.6)

    Thallus (A.D. 52) - a Roman historian

    Wrote about a darkness that covered the earth at the time of the Crucifixion and tried to explain it away as a solar eclipse! (Strobel, p.110)

    Phlegon (A.D. 137) – a Greek author from Caria

    Wrote that in A.D. 33 there was  “the greatest eclipse of the sun” and that “it became night in the sixth hour [noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens.” (Strobel, p.111)

    The Talmud (A.D. 200 – 500) – an important Jewish work

    Contains passages that mention Jesus, calling him a false messiah, who practiced magic and was justly condemned to death. (Strobel, p.113)

 

Let’s pretend we didn’t have any of the New Testament or other Christian writings. . .

  • nWhat would we be able to conclude about Jesus from ancient non-Christian sources, such as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and others?
  • nDr. Edwin M. Yamauchi answers the question in this way: We would still have a considerable amount of important historical evidence; in fact, it would provide a kind of outline for the life of Jesus. We would know that:
    • nJesus was a Jewish teacher
    • nMany people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms
    • nSome people believed he was the Messiah
    • nHe was rejected by the Jewish leaders
    • nHe was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius
    • nDespite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64
    • nAll kinds of people from the cities and in the countryside – men and women, slave and free – worshipped him as God.”
      n(The Case for Christ, p.114-115)