I’ve found that “Truthers”, (and by truthers I mean those who are asking the hard questions and exposing the covert agenda of the ruling elite), generally fall into one of two groups of spiritual belief: There are Christians and there is a popularly growing new Spirituality or “Consciousness” group. More and more, those who were previously atheists seem to be shifting into this new spirituality group as well. We often hear the comment “I’m not religious but I’m spiritual”. They speak of “Consciousness” or “Christ Consciousness”. And they generally hold to the belief that humankind is on the brink of an “ascension”, an evolution to a higher spiritual self, an “enlightenment” or even “godhood”. The well meaning followers of this movement are led to believe that they are part of the force for good which is exposing the evils of the Luciferian Illuminati. They generally believe that goodness will prevail through their positive thought, heightened consciousness and vigilant actions to expose truth. This school of thought covers such a wide scope of different expressions that it’s tempting to call it a “do it yourself” spirituality, modifiable to meet your own personal preferences.
Most of these are real nice people and I commend their good heart and intentions. The problem that I see with their beliefs is found in the source of these teachings. As I am currently examining in a book I am writing about my NDE, the claims made by the various leaders of this movement are based on experience, or frequently by the claims of a channeled entity of questionable origin rather than being anchored to what is known with historical or empirical evidence. The disturbing thing is that if we follow the trail of these popular new teachings, we discover that they take us back to the same mystery schools which are behind the Luciferian agenda we are trying to expose. Now that’s a lengthy topic to be sure, but I only want to touch on one important aspect of it today, that being the claims by leaders of this movement that Jesus Christ was not a real person.
Throughout the centuries, the existence of Jesus Christ was never called into question. There is simply too much evidence that he existed. In fact, there is more historical evidence for the existence of Jesus than any other historical figure of his time. Critics focused instead on his claims to be God and questioned the physical evidence that he rose from the dead. I came across this video and pulled up the article referred to (below the video, in case you’d prefer to just read it for yourself). It makes a solid case for the historical existence of Jesus, using strictly non-biblical historical texts.
For full article with live links, visit: The Divine Evidence
The Historicity Of Jesus Christ: Did He Exist?
A lot of evidence has been presented during this discussion to confirm Jesus Christ as a historical figure. We have viewed accounts taken from numerous authors of different theological backgrounds and we have answered some common skeptic questions concerning Jesus’ historicity.
I purposely avoided using Biblical evidence to support the existence of Jesus because that would be “using the Bible to prove the Bible.” Instead we focused this study on extrabiblical sources. However, early Christian historians and witnesses were unanimous in their accounts that several New Testament books were written by eye witnesses of both Jesus and the apostolic ministry. If these authors were indeed eye witnesses, we can believe they also provide evidence to the historicity of Jesus.
Some readers may be satisfied with such evidence, some may not. Whatever the case, I encourage you to examine all the facts for yourself before reaching a logical conclusion.
In this section, we will examine 1st and 2nd century sources which verify Jesus as an actual man of history (not a compilation of pagan myths as some critics allege). Each of the following sections offer their own advantages: the non-Christian sources are important as they had nothing to gain by their admissions. On the other hand, the Christian witness had everything to lose- many paying for their testimony with their lives.
The outline we will be following for this discussion is as follows:
1) Secular Sources (Documentary)
2) Secular Sources (Commentary)
3) Jewish Sources (Non-Christian)
4) Extra-Biblical Sources (Christian)
5) Answering Common Skeptic Questions Concerning Jesus’ existence
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)
Skeptic Interjection: Could Tacitus have taken his information from Christian sources?
Answer: Because of his position as a professional historian and not as a commentator, it is more likely Tacitus referenced government records over Christian testimony. It is also possible Tacitus received some of his information from his friend and fellow secular historian, Pliny the Younger. Yet, even if Tacitus referenced some of Pliny’s sources, it would be out of his character to have done so without critical investigation. An example of Tacitus criticising testimony given to him even from his dear friend Pliny is found here: Annals XV, 55. Tacitus distinguishes between confirmed and hearsay accounts almost 70 times in his History. If he felt this account of Jesus was only a rumor or folklore, he would have issued his usual disclaimer that this account was unverified.
Skeptic Interjection: Could this passage have been a Christian interpolation?
Answer: Judging by the critical undertones of the passage, this is highly unlikely. Tacitus refers to Christianity as a superstition and insuppressible mischief. Furthermore, there is not a surviving copy of Tacitus’ Annals that does not contain this passage. There is no verifiable evidence of tampering of any kind in this passage.
Skeptic Interjection: Why is this passage not quoted by the early church fathers?
Answer: Due to the condescending nature of Tacitus’ testimony, early Christian authors most likely would not have quoted such a source (assuming Tacitus’ writings were even available to them). However, our actual answer comes from the content of the passage itself. Nothing in Tacitus’ statement mentions anything that was not already common knowledge among Christians. It simply provides evidence of Jesus’ existence (a topic not debated at this point in history) and not his divinity.
Skeptic Interjection: Does the incorrect use of title procurator instead of prefect negate Tacitus’ reliability?
Answer: No. Evidence is provided in both secular and Christian works which refer to Pilate as a procurator:
- “But now Pilate, the procurator of Judea… Antiquities XVIII, 3:1
- “Now Pilate, who was sent as procurator into Judea by Tiberius…” The Jewish Wars, Book II 9:2
- “Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the times of Tiberius Caesar…” First Apology XII
It has been suggested by both Christian and secular scholars that Tacitus was either using an anachronism for the sake of clarity or, since Judea was a relatively new and insignificant Roman province, Pilate might have held both positions.
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
Skeptic Interjection: Because Suetonius misspells Christus as Chrestus, is it possible he was referring to someone else?
Answer: Because Chrestus was an actual Greek name, critics speculate Suetonius may have been referring to a specific civil agitator. I would like to present a few arguments as to why I feel this is a reference to Jesus. In order to get as close to the author’s intent as possible, this is the passage as it exists in the original Latin:
“Iudaeos (The Jews) impulsore (the instigation) Chresto (Chrestus) assidue (upon) tumultuantis (making a disturbance) Roma
(Rome) expulit (were expelled).”
- Suetonius seems to imply the word Chrestus as a title- not as a reference to a particular rebel. Though I have seen critics cite the passage as “a certain/one Chrestus” we can see this is incorrect by the lack of the word quodam in the original Latin.
- Suetonius uses the word instigation- not instigator. The Latin word referring to an instigator is impulsor but the term referring to an instigation is impusore- and this is the word Suetonius uses, thus affirming the belief he is using the word Chrestus as a title and not as a name.
- It was common for both pagan and Christian authors to spell the name using either an e or an i- and we know the Christian authors were obviously referring to Jesus when they spelled the name as Chrestus.
- Tertullian criticises pagan disdain for Christianity and points out the fact they can’t even spell the name correctly. He implies the common misspelling of Chrestus by their use of the term Chrestians: “Most people so blindly knock their heads against the hatred of the Christian name…It is wrongly pronounced by you as “Chrestians” (for you do not even know accurately the name you hate)… But the special ground of dislike to the sect is, that it bears the name of its Founder.” Apology, Chapter III
- We also see Justin Martyr (a Christian apologist, nonetheless!) using the incorrect spelling of Chrestian. First Apology IV
- Lactantius repeats the lament of Tertullian with his statement, “But the meaning of this name must be set forth, on account of the error of the ignorant who by the change of a letter are accustomed to call Him Chrestus.” Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries
- Chrestus was a Greco-Roman slave name but Suetonius tells us “foreigners” were not allowed to adopt such names. Knowing the Jews were a close-knit community, the idea of them following the revolt of a gentile slave to such an extent to get them (and only them!) expelled from Rome is quite a stretch.
Skeptic Interjection: How could this passage refer to Jesus. He was never said to have travelled to Rome.
Answer: If Chrestus does refer to a title and not a specific name (as we are asserting), there is no need for Him to have been in Rome. A leader can still be “an instigator” for a cause without being in the vicinity. There are many causes that survived long after the lives of those who initiated certain movements.
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
Skeptic Interjection: Why doesn’t Pliny the Elder or Seneca mention this event in their writings?
Answer: Pliny focused his writings on natural astronomical events that had physical, scientific explanations. It is doubtful he would have found it necessary to record an event of supernatural origin. I can also find no mention of him being in Judea at the time so it is doubtful he would have mentioned it if he did not witness the event first hand. Seneca focused his writings on dramas, dialogues, and tragedies but also wrote a meteorological essay, Natural Questions, composed of theories pertaining to ancient cosmology. However this was by no means a complete scientific almanac of events- it was a literary work. And like Pliny, it is doubtful Seneca was in Judea during this event.
Skeptic Interjection: Because Thallus’ and Phlegon’s works exist only in fragments, can their testimonies be considered reliable?
Answer: This is something the reader will have to determine on their own. Africanus was an honest, qualified author who did not alter the quotes to serve his own purpose. This is very likely considering what we know about Africanus (See: here). Africanus’ methods were highly respected by his peers, he was often quoted by other authors, and he even chastises his friend and fellow Christian, Origen, for citing information from a spurious/unreliable source! (See: Africanus’ letter to Origen). It also must be noted that Thallus never said this eclipse did not happen but instead was trying to actually come up with a scientific explanation to the eclipse instead of assigning it divine origins.
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!
Skeptic Interjection: How does dying for one’s belief verify the actual existence of Jesus? The sincerity of a belief does not necessarily
make the belief true. How does this passage specifically confirm a historical Jesus and not just the existence of Christians in Rome?
Answer: Pliny states the Christians worshiped Christ as if he were a god. This indicates one who would not normally be considered a god, such as a human who was exalted to divine status. Also, the early Christians would have been in the position to know if Jesus was a historical figure or not. Though critics can claim these martyrs took Jesus’ existence solely on faith, common sense tells us there would have been a lot more evidence of a historical Jesus at this time than what has been preserved until today. According to early historians, Jesus’ great-nephews and other relatives were still alive as well as the associates of the original apostles. Such individuals could easily verify His existence. Also,
documents which have been lost to us were still in existence (such as Jesus’ trial records and the census records of His birth) and were even referenced by early authors who wrote about Jesus. These individuals had every reason to be certain of Jesus’ existence and were willing to die because of it.
Skeptic Interjection: Pliny also states some recanted their testimony. Perhaps they did so because they knew Jesus was a myth.
Answer: There are several rational explanations as to why some would recant their Christian beliefs:
- Pliny readily admits to torturing some of the accused (are admissions/denials really credible under torture!?).
- The accused knew if they did not recant they would be put to death (fallible human rationalization: confess and go home [and work out
the hard feelings with Jesus later] or suffer crucifixion?).
- Some of the accused could have been lackadaisical Christians who half-heartedly accepted Christianity because of a spouse, parent, or
friend (and would have had no problem reverting back to paganism upon facing persecution). There were half-hearted Christians 2,000
years ago just like there are half-hearted Christians today.
- New Christians may have recanted to escape persecution if they were not familiar with or did not understand the severity of Jesus’
warning regarding those who deny their Christian beliefs).
- The correspondence between Pliny and Trajan implies many of the accused were being turned in falsely by their enemies. Some were
never Christians to begin with while some had already left the faith prior to their interrogation.
- Just because there were some who may have recanted out of fear or poor judgment doesn’t dismiss the deaths of the other individuals
who were certain of Jesus’ existence and died because of their knowledge.
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…”
Not only does Celsus confirm Jesus’ existence, he also tries to debate the source of Jesus’ miracles. Like the pharisees of Jesus’ day, Celsus tries to dismiss these miracles as both demonic possession and cheap parlor tricks. However, he is clearly grasping at straws: On one hand Celsus accuses Jesus of performing magic learned in Egypt, then later states it is by the power of possession, then states the miracles were not really miracles at all but were illusionary tricks performed by a deceiver, then finally states the miracles never occurred!
On the Virgin Birth: “Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her hands. His mother had been turned out by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a Roman soldier named Panthera]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard.”
Celsus acknowledges Jesus’ birth and existence but does not accept the concept of a virgin conception. He tries to dismiss Mary’s premarital pregnancy as the result of an affair she had with a Roman soldier. Strangely enough, there is a very similar passage in the Jewish Talmud which makes the same accusation. This gives us reason to believe Celsus might have referenced Jewish sources for some of his arguments.
On the Apostles: “Jesus gathered around him ten or eleven persons of notorious character… tax-collectors, sailors, and fishermen… [He was] deserted and delivered up by those who had been his associates, who had him for their teacher, and who believed he was the savior and son of the greatest God… Those who were his associates while alive, who listened to his voice, and enjoyed his instructions as their teacher, on seeing him subjected to punishment and death, neither died with nor for him… but denied that they were even his disciples, lest they die along with Him.”
Celsus’ intentions were to argue that if the disciples really believed Jesus was the Son of God, they would not have forsaken Him at His arrest. Instead, he only ends up confirming the Biblical account! The Bible tells us when Jesus was arrested, the apostles denied being His followers. It was only upon Jesus’ resurrection they understood the spiritual principles concerning Jesus’ crucifixion and boldly went out to preach the Gospel. Celsus is also wrong with his statement, [they] neither died with nor for him. We are told by early historians all but one of the remaining apostles were killed for their faith.
On Jesus’ Divinity: “One who was a God could neither flee nor be led away a prisoner… What great deeds did Jesus perform as God? Did he put his enemies to shame or bring to an end what was designed against him? No calamity happened even to him who condemned him… Why does he not give some manifestation of his divinity, and free himself from this reproach, and take vengeance upon those who insult both him and his Father?”
Celsus ridicules Jesus for the exact same reasons the pharisees of His time ridiculed Him- if Jesus was the Son of God, why didn’t He save Himself from the cross? Neither Celsus nor the pharisees understood the spiritual implications of Jesus’ death to atone for sin. Celsus also asks why no judgment came upon the Jews but history shows shortly after His death Jerusalem was invaded by the Romans, the Jewish temple was destroyed, and the Jewish people were dispersed for almost 2,000 years!
John the Baptist “If any one predicted to us that the Son of God was to visit mankind, he was one of our prophets, and the prophet of our God? John, who baptized Jesus, was a Jew.”
Celsus confirms Jesus’ baptism by John but asserts that John was the only one who actually prophesied His coming- not the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
On the Crucifixion: “Jesus accordingly exhibited after His death only the appearance of wounds received on the cross, and was not in reality so wounded as He is described to have been.”
In this statement, Celsus confirms Jesus’ death by crucifixion although he claims the only wounds Jesus received were those inflicted by the crucifixion (thus denying any previous torture had taken place). But not even history offers Celsus the benefit of a doubt as floggings were the standard form of torture given to victims prior to crucifixion (See here). Celsus contradicts himself yet again when he later states Jesus was probably never even crucified but instead had an impostor die in His place!
Skeptic Interjection: Celsus also states, “It is clear to me that the writings of the Christians are a lie and that your fables are not well enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction.” How do we know Celsus is referring to a historical Jesus and not just debating myth?
Answer: Evidence which shows Celsus to be refuting aspects of a historical Jesus is as follows:
- Our answer can be found in Celsus’ own words: He was therefore a man, and of such a nature, as the truth itself proves, and reason
demonstrates him to be. Satisfied with his presentation of evidence, Celsus offers his conclusion that Jesus was only a man- not a myth
(or a God, as the apostles had claimed).
- Instead of denying the alleged events, Celsus offers alternative theories to the early Christian claims (like the virgin birth being a cover-
up for an illegitimate pregnancy and the miracles actually being works of sorcery). If he was discussing a mythical character, he would
not have needed to go to such lengths but merely to have dismissed Jesus as a myth. After all, there is no easier way to discredit a
religion than to assert its founder never existed! Of course, this is an argument Celsus never makes.
- The “fables” Celsus refers to is his belief that the claims such as a virgin birth and resurrection were embellishments created by early
Christians- not that Jesus was Himself a myth. Celsus was debating the claims of Jesus’ divinity, not His existence.
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
Skeptic Interjection: Can we consider Lucian’s testimony reliable due to the source being a literary work?
Answer: Lucian’s commentary revolved around historical events. In Lucian’s work The Way to Write History, he openly criticises his contemporaries who distort history to flatter their masters or those who fill in the historical gaps with personal conjecture:
“The historian’s one task is to tell the thing as it happened… He may nurse some private dislikes, but he will attach far more importance to the public good, and set the truth high above his hate… For history, I say again, has this and only this for its own. If a man will start upon it, he must sacrifice to no God but Truth. He must neglect all else.” The Way to Write History
Skeptic Interjection: Is it possible Lucian received his knowledge from Christian sources or that this passage is an interpolation?
Answer: Seeing how adamant Lucian was in regards to historical accuracy and critical investigation, our answer is an emphatic no. As to the passage being a Christian interpolation, chances are the reference to Jesus would be far more favorable if this were so. Lucian refers to Jesus only as a man, a lawgiver, and a sage (human- not divine- descriptions). He never once refers to Jesus as a God. Furthermore, there isn’t anything in the above statement that reveals what wasn’t already known- it merely asserts that Jesus lived, preached, and died. Remember, at this time Christians were trying to prove Jesus’ divinity- not His existence.
MARA BAR-SERAPION (Post 70 A.D) Mara Bar-Serapion of Syria penned this letter from prison to his son. Though it is obvious he does not acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, he does mention aspects of Jesus’ life. There is some criticism regarding this passage but it must be noted nothing in Serapion’s letter contradicts what we know about Jesus.
“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: The Athenians died of hunger. The Samians were overwhelmed by the sea. The Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good. He lived on in the teachings of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good. He lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good. He lived on in the teaching which He had given.” Source
Skeptic Interjection: How do we know this passage is a reference to Jesus?
Answer: There are several references in this passage which imply Serapion is referring to Jesus:
- He was a wise King (Jesus was mocked by the Romans as The King of the Jews, the messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus referred to
the coming Messiah as a king, Christian believers believed Jesus was their promised spiritual king, and Jesus was born from the royal
line of King David).
- He was Jewish (Jesus was a Galilean Jew).
- He was executed (Jesus was crucified after the Jews appealed to Pilate to have Him crucified).
- After His death Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed (This occurred in 70 A.D., after Jesus’ death).
- The Jews were dispersed after His death (The Jews abandoned Judea after the Roman attack of 70 A.D.).
- He was a teacher (Jesus was a rabbi/teacher).
- He lived on after death in His teachings (Jesus and His teachings founded the Christian faith).
Skeptic Interjection: Is it possible Serapion was referring to another person?
Answer: Though critics mention other possible candidates, the timing is off as Serapion specifically states just after that their kingdom was abolished. Only Jesus fits into the appropriate timeline as Titus destroyed Jerusalem a mere 36 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. The others lived approximately 170-250 years prior to the desolation.
Skeptic Interjection: Didn’t the Romans technically kill Jesus, though?
Answer: As I mention towards the bottom of this page, The Jews were under Roman domination which restricted their ability to execute capital punishment. The Jews rallied the Roman government to crucify Jesus for the crime of blasphemy as they did not have the legal power to do so. Even the Bible mentions Pilate’s reluctance to punish an innocent man but that he allowed it to take place to prevent a Jewish revolt in an already hostile environment.
ARGUMENTS FOR AUTHENTICITY
1: The vocabulary found in the Testimonium is consistent with
the vocabulary used in other passages in Antiquities. The phrase
Now about this time is used at the beginning of this passage as
well dozens of other passages. It’s also doubtful a Christian
forger would have referred to Jesus as simply a wise man but
then go on to assert claims of His divinity. Yet, Josephus uses
this word to refer to many other notable (and purely human)
figures. Josephus also uses the description of Jesus’ miracles as
wonderful [astonishing, surprising] works. Lastly, Josephus
refers to Christianity as a tribe- just like he does many other
times in reference to both major and minor sects.
2: Once the disputed words (printed in regular font in the above
passage) are removed, Josephus’ though process flows just as
well. This lends credence to the possibility the passage wasn’t
wholly interpolated but perhaps altered. When we omit the
disputed words, the passage seems consistent with what an
orthodox Jew would say concerning Jesus:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise 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. 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. And the
tribes of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this
3: Greek and Arabic translations of the Testimonium contain
disclaimers preceding the suspicious declarations such as “Jesus
who was believed to be the Christ” and “It has been
reported that He appeared to them alive again on the third
day.” If anything, this could lead to the speculation that
Christian authors did not add to the text but edited it by deleting
4: The earliest versions of Antiquities contain the passage as it
is presented above. Objection: The earliest surviving copy
dates from 10th century A.D. (plenty of time from the
publication of Antiquities to alter or interpolate the passage).
Answer: This is true. We do not have an extant copy of
Antiquities dating from before 10th century A.D. What we do
have however, is several citations of this passage by other
authors prior to the 10th century).
5: Many defenders of the Testimonium’s authenticity speculate
that if it had been wholly interpolated by a Christian, they most
likely would have inserted the passage next to the John the
Baptist references. Though I understand their reasoning, I feel
this argument is based on conjecture instead of evidence. The
alleged Christian forger could have had just as much reason to
insert this passage next to the John passage, the Pilate passage,
or the James passage.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST AUTHENTICITY
1: This passage seems to interrupt the continuity of Josephus’
thought process in the previous and subsequent verses.
Answer: Interruptions are frequently found in Josephus’ works
since he composed his histories during different sittings.
Furthermore, Josephus was known to use the assistance of
scribes during his writings which could easily resolve this issue.
2: The passage contains proclamations an orthodox Jew would
not make such as Jesus being the Christ. Answer: In other
translations (Greek and Arabic) the suspicious statements
contain disclaimers such as “Jesus who was believed to be the
Christ” and “It has been reported…” This presents the theory
Josephus was recording the beliefs regarding Jesus and not
necessarily his personal opinion (as a responsible historian
3: Early Christian authors like Origen and Justin Martyr do not
mention this passage in their writings. Answer: I’m not sure
what the motive is behind this objection because Origen does
reference the other passage by Josephus yet critics claim the
reference is “too late” to be reliable! But, for argument’s sake if
we assume this passage did exist in the form most scholars
believe it did, the early church fathers might not have felt the
need to refer to it. The [original?] passage serves as evidence
for the historicity of Jesus- a topic not hotly debated at this point
as the burden of proof revolved around His divinity. Objection:
Origen attests to the historicity of John the Baptist in his work
Contra Celsus when it wasn’t even being debated. He could have
cited this passage too. Answer: In Origen’s Contra Celsus the
divinity of Jesus was being debated- not his existence. Though
Josephus allegedly admits to Jesus performing miracles, he does
not state how. It would have made no sense for Origen to cite
the Testimonium since it doesn’t either dispute or confirm
Celsus’ claims. Furthermore, even if the original Antiquities still
existed in Josephus’ own handwriting, critics would say he either
drew his information from Christian sources or was to late to be
4: Josephus’ Jewish Wars also contains this passage so it must
be a forgery. Answer: This is false- the Testimonium is not
found in the Jewish Wars. To the contrary- Skeptics criticize that
the Testimonium is not found in The Wars but should have
5: Josephus should have written more regarding Jesus if the
passage was genuine. Answer: What topic or how much an
author writes about a topic is their prerogative. Also, since
Josephus believed Jesus was just another messianic pretender
and false prophet, it would have made little sense for Josephus
to have written volumes concerning His life and actions. It would
be similar to a modern a Christian author exhaustively recording
the life of Jim Jones or David Koresh. Josephus most likely held
Jesus in the same regard and felt he warranted little mention.
After weighing the evidence for myself, I personally agree with the consensus of scholars that Josephus did make some mention of Jesus in
this passage but that the text was later altered. Because opinions differ so greatly, I will leave the final conclusion up to the reader. For a more
in-depth discussion on this topic, I suggest reading this non-biased article which details both sides of the on-going debate (although this author
believes the passage was wholly interpolated).
We’ll now examine the second passage given to us by Josephus. Fortunately, it is not surrounded in as much controversy!
“So [Ananus] assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together
with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.” Antiquities XX 9:1
Skeptic Interjection: Is it possible this passage was interpolated by early Christians?
Answer: It must be noted that no copy of Antiquities has ever surfaced without the above text quoted as it is above. Critics are suspicious of
the so-called Christ statement yet this reference (rather than the Christ) shows Josephus was not condoning the belief but simply
documenting it. Also, this passage concerns the actions of the priest Ananus- Jesus and James were not even the primary focus of this verse!
Lastly, this passage is cited in other early works which attests to its authenticity.
Even if we dismiss the disputed words in Josephus’ Testimonium, we still see he testifies to a number of things in the above two passages:
- Jesus lived in the first century
- He performed wonderful works (miracles)
- Some believed Jesus to be the Christ
- He was a teacher
- He had many followers
- He was tried by Pilate
- He was crucified
- He was the founder of Christianity
- James was the brother of Jesus
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
“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.”
Skeptic Interjection: How can we know the Talmud is documenting Jesus’ existence and not only stating the rumor surrounding a myth?
Answer: In the above excerpt the Talmud mentions Jesus’ ability to perform miracles but tries to dismiss it as sorcery. If the writers were
simply refuting myth, they would most likely have dismissed the tale as a rumor- not assign alternative theories to defend their position.
Skeptic Interjection: How can we know this passage is a reference to Jesus and not another individual with the name Yeshu?
Answer: Though it is possible this passage could refer to another individual, we know Jesus was killed during the Passover, we know He was
crucified (a Jewish idiom for hanged), we know He was accused of practicing sorcery by the pharisees (for His miracles), and He was ultimately
arrested for the sin of blasphemy (enticing Israel to apostasy). Furthermore, there are other translations which read Yeshu the Nazarene which
give us even more reason to believe this passage pertains to Jesus. On the other hand, a very thorough article which debates the Talmudic
passages believed to refer to Jesus may be read here.
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
Skeptic Interjection: Could this passage have been altered or interpolated by early Christian authors?
Answer: Some think this passage is a complete interpolation while some believe the passage is authentic. However, the general consensus
among scholars is that Josephus most likely made some sort of mention to Jesus but that the original text became distorted over time.
Because this passage is a source of great debate, we will touch on a few of the arguments presented by both sides: