Thursday, January 28, 2010

Non-Biblical Sources Referencing Jesus or Other New Testament Events/People

(These are not original, but are being collated here for quick reference from various online sources)

Flavius Josephus (AD 37?-101?, a Jewish historian) mentions John the Baptist and Herod - Antiquities, Book 18, ch. 5, par. 2
"Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness."
Flavius Josephus (AD 37?-101?) mentions Jesus - Antiquities, Book 18, ch. 3, par. 3.
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 amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) 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.
There is debate among scholars as to the authenticity of this quote since it is so favorable to Jesus. For more information on this, please see Regarding the quotes from the historian Josephus about Jesus
Flavius Josephus (AD 37?-101?) mentions James, the brother of Jesus - Antiquities, Book 20, ch. 9.
"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, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done."
Flavius Josephus (AD 37?-101?) mentions Ananias the High Priest who was mentioned in Acts 23:2
Now as soon as Albinus was come to the city of Jerusalem, he used all his endeavors and care that the country might be kept in peace, and this by destroying many of the Sicarii. But as for the high priest, Ananias (25) he increased in glory every day, and this to a great degree, and had obtained the favor and esteem of the citizens in a signal manner; for he was a great hoarder up of money
Acts 23:2, "And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him [Paul] on the mouth."
Tacitus (A.D. c.55-A.D. c.117, Roman historian) mentions "Christus" who is Jesus - Annals 15.44
"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."
Ref. from
Thallus (Circa AD 52, eclipse of the sun) Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time. His writings are only found as citations by others. Julius Africanus, who wrote about AD 221, mentioned Thallus' account of an eclipse of the sun.
"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."
Is this a reference to the eclipse at the crucifixion? Luke 23:44-45, "And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 the sun being obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two."
The oddity is that Jesus' crucifixion occurred at the Passover which was a full moon. It is not possible for a solar eclipse to occur at a full moon. Note that Julius Africanus draws the conclusion that Thallus' mentioning of the eclipse was describing the one at Jesus' crucifixion. It may not have been.
Julius Africanus, Extant Writings, XVIII in the Ante Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), vol. VI, p. 130. as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.
Pliny the Younger mentioned Christ. Pliny was governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Pliny wrote ten books. The tenth around AD 112.
"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, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food but food of an ordinary and innocent kind."
Pliny, Letters, transl. by William Melmoth, rev. by W.M.L. Hutchinson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935), vol. II, X:96 as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.
The Talmud
"On the eve of the Passover Yeshu 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 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!"
Gal. 3:13, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree."
Luke 22:1-2, "Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. 2And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people."
This quotation was taken from the reading in The Babylonian Talmud, transl. by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, p. 281 as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.
Lucian (circa 120-after 180) mentions Jesus. Greek writer and rhetorician.
"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 that 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 merely as common property."
Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 1113, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, transl. by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), vol. 4, as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.
Though Lucian opposed Christianity, he acknowledges Jesus, that Jesus was crucified, that Christians worship him, and that this was done by faith.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict. San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life Publishers, Inc., 1979.
Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996.
Encarta on the Web at

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Jesus lived His public life in the land of Palestine under the Roman rule of Tiberius (ad 14-37). There are four possible Roman historical sources for his reign: Tacitus (55-117), Suetonius (70-160), Velleius Paterculus (a contemporary), and Dio Cassius (3rd century). There are two Jewish historical resources that describe events of this period: Josephus (37-100?), writing in Greek, and the Rabbinical Writings (written in Hebrew after 200, but much of which would have been in oral form prior to that time). There are also sources (non-historians) writing about the Christians, in which possible mentions are made (e.g., Lucian, Galen).

Of these writings, we would NOT expect Velleius to have a reference to Jesus (i.e. the events were just happening OUTSIDE of Velleius' home area), and Dio Cassius is OUTSIDE of our time window of pre-3rd century. Of the remaining Roman writers--Tacitus and Suetonius--we have apparent references to Jesus (discussed below), even though the main section in Tacitus covering the period 29-32ad is missing from the manuscript tradition. If these are genuine and trustworthy 'mentions' of Jesus, then we have an amazing fact--ALL the relevant non-Jewish historical sources mention Jesus! (Notice that this is the OPPOSITE situation than is commonly assumed--"If Jesus was so important, why didn't more historians write about Him?" In this case, THEY ALL DID!).

Of the Jewish resources--Josephus and the Rabbinical writings (e.g. Talmud, Midrash)--BOTH make clear references to the existence of Jesus (even though the details reported may be odd). So ALL the Jewish sources refer to Him.

In addition, there are three OTHER candidates for historical 'mentions' of Jesus that fall in the 2nd century: one Roman (Pliny the Younger) , one possibly Syrian (Mara Bar Serapion), and one Samaritian (Thallus). [We can also include here the writings of Celsus, Galen, Lucian]

I would like to take these in probable historical order.

(First, a methodological note about the issue of 'independent sources')

Thallus (c. 50-75ad) [4/2/96]

Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, c.93) [The best current discussion on this passage is in a skeptical piece by my friend Jeff Lowder.]

Let me also just mention something about the Josephus issue. Every now an then I get an email about someone abjectly 'dismissing' the data from Josephus, without even interacting with the data and the positions of solid scholars. This is inappropriate. By far and away, the bulk of modern scholarship accepts that Josephus makes two independent references to Jesus--to argue otherwise requires the objector to dismantle the historical consensus, and this requires argumentation instead of simple assertion (and disallowance of Josephus as a witness!). One of the leading scholars, translators, and commentators on Josephus is Steve Mason. In his book on Josephus and the New Testament (Hendrickson:1992), he discusses the two references to Jesus in Josephus' writings, and concludes that "if it were needed", they would provide independent testimony to the existence of Jesus. He writes:

"Taking all of these problems into consideration, a few scholars have argued that the entire passage (the testimonium) as it stands in Josephus is a Christian forgery. The Christian scribes who copied the Jewish historian's writings thought it intolerable that he should have said nothing about Jesus and spliced the paragraph in where it might logically have stood, in Josephus' account of Pilate's tenure. Some scholars have suggested that Eusebius himself was the forger, since he was the first to produce the passage…Most critics, however, have been reluctant to go so far. They have noted that, in general, Christian copyists were quite conservative in transmitting texts. Nowhere else in all of Josephus' voluminous writings is there strong suspicion of scribal tampering. Christian copyists also transmitted the works of Philo, who said many things that might be elaborated in a Christian direction, but there is no evidence that in hundreds of years of transmission, the scribes inserted their own remarks into Philo's text. To be sure, many of the "pseudepigrapha" that exist now only in Christian form are thought to stem from Jewish originals, but in this instance it may reflect the thorough Christian rewriting of Jewish models, rather than scribal insertions. That discussion is ongoing among scholars. But in the cases of Philo and Josephus, whose writings are preserved in their original language and form, one is hard pressed to find a single example of serious scribal alteration. To have created the testimonium out of whole cloth would be an act of unparalleled scribal audacity." (p.170-171)

"Finally, the existence of alternative versions of the testimonium has encouraged many scholars to think that Josephus must have written something close to what we find in them, which was later edited by Christian hands. if the laudatory version in Eusebius and our text of Josephus were the free creation of Christian scribes, who then created the more restrained versions found in Jerome, Agapius, and Michael? The version of Agapius is especially noteworthy because it eliminates, though perhaps too neatly, all of the major difficulties in the standard text of Josephus. (a) It is not reluctant to call Jesus a man. (b) It contains no reference to Jesus' miracles. (c) It has Pilate execute Jesus at his own discretion. (d) It presents Jesus' appearance after death as merely reported by the disciples, not as fact. (e) It has Josephus wonder about Jesus' messiahship, without explicit affirmation. And (f) it claims only that the prophets spoke about "the Messiah," whoever he might be, not that they spoke about Jesus. That shift also explains sufficiently the otherwise puzzling term "Messiah" for Josephus' readers. In short, Agapius' version of the testimonium sounds like something that a Jewish observer of the late first century could have written about Jesus and his followers." (p.172)

"It would be unwise, therefore, to lean heavily on Josephus' statements about Jesus' healing and teaching activity, or the circumstances of his trial. Nevertheless, since most of those who know the evidence agree that he said something about Jesus, one is probably entitled to cite him as independent evidence that Jesus actually lived, if such evidence were needed. But that much is already given in Josephus' reference to James (Ant. 20.200) and most historians agree that Jesus' existence is the only adequate explanation of the many independent traditions among the NT writings." (p.174f)

Letter from Pliny the Younger to Trajan (c. 110)
Tacitus (Annals, c.115-120) [The best current discussion on this passage is in my friend JP Holding's site]
Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars, c. 125)
Lucian (mid-2nd century)
Galen (c.150; De pulsuum differentiis 2.4; 3.3)
Celsus (True Discourse, c.170).
Mara Bar Serapion (pre-200?)
Talmudic References( written after 300 CE, but some refs probably go back to eyewitnesses)
There are other references to "Christians" in this period, but I am not concerned with those--although some would offer supporting evidence for someone named 'Christ'. For example, Marcus Aurelius (Meditations 11.3) calls the believers 'Christians', but Epictetus (Discourses 4.7.6) calls them "Galileans".
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Good links on the subject: