Christian Apologetics Free Course 03, Lesson 04
Jesus And History
Since the Christian faith is firmly mingled with (and anchored in) history, the historical narratives of the Bible is a favorite target of attack by the theological radicals and rationalists. They have raised numerous questions against the historical records. The historicity of Jesus Christ is one such question.
Jesus Christ is so firmly embedded into world history that no knowledgeable and educated person can conceivably question his historicity. Yet when the dissenters keep harping that He did not exist, at least some people are disturbed at it. It is human nature that if ten people proclaim a horse to be donkey, at least some of the people would start doubting their own assessment of the horses.
Further, many of the disputers have produced massive books to dispute the historicity of Jesus. For example, Joseph Edamaruku has published books in English and Malayalam to attack the historicity of Jesus. Writers like him are so clever in throwing in bits and pieces of information in such a one-sided and plausible-looking presentation that the average reader is totally confused. These readers are totally ignorant about the debating tricks and propaganda methods used by these people. Consequently, many young people would like to know more about the historicity of Jesus Christ.
The four gospels are detailed historical narratives about Lord Jesus, but due to the above-mentioned influences many young people ask if any additional proof can be produced. Of course, a large amount of historical proof can be provided for the existence of Jesus Christ. The amount of material available surpasses the amount of material available to prove the existence of Plato, Aristotle, Alexander The Great, and other well-known figures of ancient history.
Most of the material available is in the form of buildings, artifacts, and ancillary history. A person would have to visit those countries to see these things. Since none of this material can be brought to the reader in a book like this, we will reproduce some of the ancient written material that talk about Lord Jesus. All of these statements were made by NON-CHRISTIANS, some of whom were historians, and some of whom were not friendly to Christians.
Ancient Records About Jesus
FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS (Born AD 37): Josephus was a Jewish historian who became a Pharisee at age 19; in AD 66 he was the commander of Jewish forces in Galilee. After being captured, he was attached to the Roman headquarters. The Collected Works of Josephus is a massive historical document, more massive than the Bible. It is a valuable reference book for students of ancient history. In it he says:
“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.” Antiquities. xviii.33. (Early second) century).
In Josephus we also see a reference to James the brother of Jesus and high priest Annas:
“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 Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he though 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 it before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.”
In addition to the two portions above, several allusions to Jesus and the Christian faith are found in the works of Josephus.
CORENELIUS TACITUS (Born Around AD 52): He was a Roman historian, and alludes to the death of Christ and to the existence of Christian at Rome:
“But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumour, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortured, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the name of the founder, 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
Tacitus has made a further reference to Christianity in a fragments of his Histories, dealing with the burning of the Jerusalem temple in AD 70
LUCIAN OF SAMOSATA: He was a satirist of the second century, who spoke scornfully of Christ and the Christians. He connected them with the synagogues of Palestine and alluded to Christ as “… the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world… Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.”
Lucian also mentions Christians several times in his Alexander the False Prophet.
SUETONIUS (AD 120): He was a Roman historian and a court official under Hardrian, analyst of the Imperial House. According to him; “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Christ, he expelled them from Rome.”
He also writes: “Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new mischievous superstition.”
PLINIUS SECUNDUS (PLINY THE YOUNGER): He was the Governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor (AD 112). Pliny was writing to the emperor Trajan seeking counsel as to how to treat the Christians.
He had been killing Christians of all age groups. There were so many being put to death that he wondered if he should continue killing anyone who was discovered to be a Christian, or if he should kill only certain ones. He wrote:
“They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not do to any wicked deeds, never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”
TERTULLIAN: He was a Jurist-theologian of Carthage. In a defense of Christianity (AD 197) before the Roman authorities in Africa, mentions the exchange between Tiberius and Pontius Pilate:
“Tiberius accordingly, in those days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from the truth of Christ’s divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favor of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all the accusers of the Christians”.
THALLUS: He was a Samaritan-born historian, and one of the first Gentile writers who mentions Christ. He wrote about Christ around 52 AD. Portions of his writings have been cited by other writers. One such writer is Julius Africanus, a Christian writer about 221 AD.
LETTER OF MARA BAR-SERAPION: This was a letter written some time later than AD73, by a Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion to his son Serapion. Mara Bar-Serapion was in prison at the time, but he wrote to encourage his son in the pursuit of wisdom, and pointed out that those who persecuted wise men were overtaken by misfortune. He mentions the death of Socrates, Pythagoras and Christ:
“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, lived in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die permanently; he lived through the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for ever; he lived in the stature of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for ever; He lived through the teaching which He had given.”
JUSTIN MARTYR: Around AD 150, Justin Martyr, addressing his Defense of Christianity to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, referred him to Pilate’s report. Justin assumed that this report must be preserved in the Imperial Archives which kept a record of all government activities. He pointed out that the words, “They pierced my hands and my feet were a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and His feet on the cross; and after he was crucified Him they cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the ‘Acts’ which were recorded under Pontius Pilate.” Later he says. “That He performed these miracles you may easily be satisfied from the ‘Acts’ of Pontius Pilate.”
THE JEWISH TALMUDS: Talmuds are commentaries on the Law written by Jewish scholars between AD100 to 500. Several of these Talmuds have survived, including what is known as the Babylonian Talmud. Many of them contain direct, indirect, and veiled reference to Jesus, His miracles, and even to his mother’s virgin-pregnancy.
Summary: There are so many extra-biblical proofs for the historicity of Jesus that a person has to be either totally ignorant or totally biased to ignore or question the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. Of all these proofs, we have selected and presented just a few quotations, mostly from non Christian and even sources hostile to the Christians. Anyone having the slightest idea about the paucity of ancient records would recognize that it is a wonder that so many records are still available about a single individual. These are much more than similar records available for the famous philosophers and kings of the same era.