Historical Jesus

Historical Jesus


We possess at least the testimony of Tacitus A.D. 54-119 for the statements that the Founder of the Christian religion, a deadly superstition in the eyes of the Romans, had been put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate under the reign of Tiberius; that His religion, though suppressed for a time, broke forth again not only throughout Judea where it had originated, but even in Rome, the conflux of all the streams of wickedness and shamelessness; furthermore, that Nero had diverted from himself the suspicion of the burning of Rome by charging the Christians with the crime; that these latter were not guilty of arson, though they deserved their fate on account of their universal misanthropy. Tacitus, moreover, describes some of the horrible torments to which Nero subjected the Christians . The Roman writer confounds the Christians with the Jews, considering them as a especially abject Jewish sect; how little he investigated the historical truth of even the Jewish records may be inferred from the credulity with which he accepted the absurd legends and calumnies about the origin of he Hebrew people

Pliny the Younger

Of greater importance is the letter of Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan about A.D. 61-115, in which the Governor of Bithynia consults his imperial majesty as to how to deal with the Christians living within his jurisdiction. On the one hand, their lives were confessedly innocent; no crime could be proved against them excepting their Christian belief, which appeared to the Roman as an extravagant and perverse superstition. On the other hand, the Christians could not be shaken in their allegiance to Jesus, Whom they celebrated as their God in their early morning meetings . Christianity here appears no longer as a religion of criminals, as it does in the texts of Tacitus and Suetonius; Pliny acknowledges the high moral principles of the Christians, admires their constancy in the Faith which he appears to trace back to their worship of Jesus

These should be enough to show that there existed a man named Jesus who was the author of a new Jewish sect that we now call Christianity. These sources are supported by the jewish writings of the first century via Josephus' two citations of Jesus.

Josephus' writings cover a number of figures familiar to Bible readers. He discusses John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, Pontius Pilate, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, the High Priests, and the Pharisees. As for Jesus, there are two references to him in Antiquities. I will recount them in the order in which they appear.

First, in a section in Book 18 dealing with various actions of Pilate, the extant texts refer to Jesus and his ministry. This passage is known as the Testimonium Flavianum referred to hereafter as the "TF".

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.

Jewish Antiquities

Second, in Book 20 there is what could be called a passing reference to Jesus in a paragraph describing the murder of Jesus' brother, James, at the hands of Ananus, the High Priest.

But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he 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.

Jewish Antiquities

Those scholars who accept the "partial authenticity" theory conclude that - at a minimum - something similar to the following reconstruction of the TF was likely original to Book 18:

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following among many Jews and among many of Gentile origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians had not died out.

We can be confident that there was a minimal reference to Jesus . . . because once the clearly Christian sections are removed, the rest makes good grammatical and historical sense. The peculiarly Christian words are parenthetically connected to the narrative; hence they are grammatically free and could easily have been inserted by a Christian. These sections also are disruptive, and when they are removed the flow of thought is improved and smoother.

Also Graham Stanton states "Once the obviously Christian additions are removed, the remaining comments are consistent with Josephus's vocabulary and style." The most recent and comprehensive study of the TF was done by John P. Meier in A Marginal Jew, Volume 1. As stated by Meier, "[m]any key words and phrases in the Testimonium are either absent from the NT or are used there in an entirely different sense; in contrast, almost every word in the core of the Testimonium is found elsewhere in Josephus--in fact, most of the vocabulary turns out to be characteristic of Josephus."

These should be enough to prove that a man named Jesus existed around 2000 years ago and he is the source of the new Jewish sect named Christianiy.