Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible

Lawrence Mykytiuk’s feature article from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR with voluminous endnotes

Read Lawrence Mykytiuk’s article “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” as it originally appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2015. The article was first republished in Bible History Daily in 2014.—Ed.


 
ravenna-jesus

THE MAN CHRIST JESUS. Did Jesus of Nazareth exist as a real human being? Outside of the New Testament, what is the evidence for his existence? In this article, author Lawrence Mykytiuk examines the extra-Biblical textual and archaeological evidence associated with the man who would become the central figure in Christianity. Here Jesus is depicted in a vibrant sixth-century C.E. mosaic from the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy. Photo: Sant’Apollinare Nuovo Ravenna, Italy/Bridgeman Images.

After two decades toiling in the quiet groves of academe, I published an article in BAR titled “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.”a The enormous interest this article generated was a complete surprise to me. Nearly 40 websites in six languages, reflecting a wide spectrum of secular and religious orientations, linked to BAR’s supplementary web page.b Some even posted translations.

I thought about following up with a similar article on people in the New Testament, but I soon realized that this would be so dominated by the question of Jesus’ existence that I needed to consider this question separately. This is that article:1

Did Jesus of Nazareth, who was called Christ, exist as a real human being, “the man Christ Jesus” according to 1 Timothy 2:5?

The sources normally discussed fall into three main categories: (1) classical (that is, Greco-Roman), (2) Jewish and (3) Christian. But when people ask whether it is possible to prove that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed, as John P. Meier pointed out decades ago, “The implication is that the Biblical evidence for Jesus is biased because it is encased in a theological text written by committed believers.2 What they really want to know is: Is there extra-Biblical evidence … for Jesus’ existence?”c

Therefore, this article will cover classical and Jewish writings almost exclusively.3

In the free ebook Who Was Jesus? Exploring the History of Jesus’ Life, examine fundamental questions about Jesus of Nazareth. Where was he really born—Bethlehem or Nazareth? Did he marry? Is there evidence outside of the Bible that proves he actually walked the earth?

Tacitus—or more formally, Caius/Gaius (or Publius) Cornelius Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.)—was a Roman senator, orator and ethnographer, and arguably the best of Roman historians. His name is based on the Latin word tacitus, “silent,” from which we get the English word tacit. Interestingly, his compact prose uses silence and implications in a masterful way. One argument for the authenticity of the quotation below is that it is written in true Tacitean Latin.4 But first a short introduction.

tacitus-bnf

Roman historian Tacitus. Photo: Bibliotheque nationale, Paris, France / Giraudon / Bridgeman Images.

Tacitus’s last major work, titled Annals, written c. 116–117 C.E., includes a biography of Nero. In 64 C.E., during a fire in Rome, Nero was suspected of secretly ordering the burning of a part of town where he wanted to carry out a building project, so he tried to shift the blame to Christians. This was the occasion for Tacitus to mention Christians, whom he despised. This is what he wrote—the following excerpt is translated from Latin by Robert Van Voorst:

tacitus-annals

TACIT CONFIRMATION. Roman historian Tacitus’s last major work, Annals, mentions a “Christus” who was executed by Pontius Pilate and from whom the Christians derived their name. Tacitus’s brief reference corroborates historical details of Jesus’ death from the New Testament. The pictured volume of Tacitus’s works is from the turn of the 17th century. The volume’s title page features Plantin Press’s printing mark depicting angels, a compass and the motto Labore et Constantia (“By Labor and Constancy”). Photo: Tacitus, Opera Quae Exstant, trans. by Justus Lipsius (Antwerp, Belgium: Ex officina Plantiniana, apud Joannem Moretum, 1600). Courtesy of the Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Co. (PRB&M).


[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.5

Tacitus’s terse statement about “Christus” clearly corroborates the New Testament on certain historical details of Jesus’ death. Tacitus presents four pieces of accurate knowledge about Jesus: (1) Christus, used by Tacitus to refer to Jesus, was one distinctive way by which some referred to him, even though Tacitus mistakenly took it for a personal name rather than an epithet or title; (2) this Christus was associated with the beginning of the movement of Christians, whose name originated from his; (3) he was executed by the Roman governor of Judea; and (4) the time of his death was during Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Judea, during the reign of Tiberius. (Many New Testament scholars date Jesus’ death to c. 29 C.E.; Pilate governed Judea in 26–36 C.E., while Tiberius was emperor 14–37 C.E.6)

Tacitus, like classical authors in general, does not reveal the source(s) he used. But this should not detract from our confidence in Tacitus’s assertions. Scholars generally disagree about what his sources were. Tacitus was certainly among Rome’s best historians—arguably the best of all—at the top of his game as a historian and never given to careless writing.

Earlier in his career, when Tacitus was Proconsul of Asia,7 he likely supervised trials, questioned people accused of being Christians and judged and punished those whom he found guilty, as his friend Pliny the Younger had done when he too was a provincial governor. Thus Tacitus stood a very good chance of becoming aware of information that he characteristically would have wanted to verify before accepting it as true.8

codex-mediceus

CHRESTIANS OF CHRIST. Book XV of Tacitus’s Annals is preserved in the 11th–12th-century Codex Mediceus II, a collection of medieval manuscripts now housed in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, Italy, along with other manuscripts and books that belonged to the Medici family. Highlighted above is the Latin text reading “… whom the crowd called ‘Chrestians.’ The founder of this name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate …” Photo: Codex Mediceus 68 II, fol. 38r, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, Italy.

The other strong evidence that speaks directly about Jesus as a real person comes from Josephus, a Jewish priest who grew up as an aristocrat in first-century Palestine and ended up living in Rome, supported by the patronage of three successive emperors. In the early days of the first Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–70 C.E.), Josephus was a commander in Galilee but soon surrendered and became a prisoner of war. He then prophesied that his conqueror, the Roman commander Vespasian, would become emperor, and when this actually happened, Vespasian freed him. “From then on Josephus lived in Rome under the protection of the Flavians and there composed his historical and apologetic writings” (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz).9 He even took the name Flavius, after the family name of his patron, the emperor Vespasian, and set it before his birth name, becoming, in true Roman style, Flavius Josephus. Most Jews viewed him as a despicable traitor. It was by command of Vespasian’s son Titus that a Roman army in 70 C.E. destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple, stealing its contents as spoils of war, which are partly portrayed in the imagery of their gloating triumph on the Arch of Titus in Rome.10 After Titus succeeded his father as emperor, Josephus accepted the son’s imperial patronage, as he did of Titus’s brother and successor, Domitian.

Yet in his own mind, Josephus remained a Jew both in his outlook and in his writings that extol Judaism. At the same time, by aligning himself with Roman emperors who were at that time the worst enemies of the Jewish people, he chose to ignore Jewish popular opinion.

Josephus stood in a unique position as a Jew who was secure in Roman imperial patronage and protection, eager to express pride in his Jewish heritage and yet personally independent of the Jewish community at large. Thus, in introducing Romans to Judaism, he felt free to write historical views for Roman consumption that were strongly at variance with rabbinic views.

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Jewish historian Josephus is pictured in the ninth-century medieval manuscript Burgerbibliothek Bern Codex under the Greek caption “Josippos Historiographer.” Photo: Burgerbibliothek Bern Cod. 50, f.2r.

In his two great works, The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities, both written in Greek for educated people, Josephus tried to appeal to aristocrats in the Roman world, presenting Judaism as a religion to be admired for its moral and philosophical depth. The Jewish War doesn’t mention Jesus except in some versions in likely later additions by others, but Jewish Antiquities does mention Jesus—twice.

The shorter of these two references to Jesus (in Book 20)11 is incidental to identifying Jesus’ brother James,12 the leader of the church in Jerusalem. In the temporary absence of a Roman governor between Festus’s death and governor Albinus’s arrival in 62 C.E., the high priest Ananus instigated James’s execution. Josephus described it:

Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.13

James is otherwise a barely noticed, minor figure in Josephus’s lengthy tome. The sole reason for referring to James at all was that his death resulted in Ananus losing his position as high priest. James (Jacob) was a common Jewish name at this time. Many men named James are mentioned in Josephus’s works, so Josephus needed to specify which one he meant. The common custom of simply giving the father’s name (James, son of Joseph) would not work here, because James’s father’s name was also very common. Therefore Josephus identified this James by reference to his famous brother Jesus. But James’s brother Jesus (Yehoshua) also had a very common name. Josephus mentions at least 12 other men named Jesus.14 Therefore Josephus specified which Jesus he was referring to by adding the phrase “who is called Messiah,” or, since he was writing in Greek, Christos.15 This phrase was necessary to identify clearly first Jesus and, via Jesus, James, the subject of the discussion. This extraneous reference to Jesus would have made no sense if Jesus had not been a real person.
 


 
Visit the historical Jesus study page in Bible History Daily to read more free articles on Jesus.
 

 
josephus-lodge

JAMES, BROTHER OF JESUS. In Jewish Antiquities, parts of which are included in this mid-17th-century book of translations, Josephus refers to a James, who is described as “the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah.” Josephus’s mention of Jesus to specify which James was being executed by the high priest Ananus in 62 C.E. affirms the existence of the historical Jesus. Photo: Josephus, Famovs and Memorable Works of Josephvs, trans. by Thomas Lodge (London: J. L. for Andrew Hebb, 1640).

Few scholars have ever doubted the authenticity of this short account. On the contrary, the huge majority accepts it as genuine.16 The phrase intended to specify which Jesus, translated “who is called Christ,” signifies either that he was mentioned earlier in the book or that readers knew him well enough to grasp the reference to him in identifying James. The latter is unlikely. First-century Romans generally had little or no idea who Christus was. It is much more likely that he was mentioned earlier in Jewish Antiquities. Also, the fact that the term “Messiah”/“Christ” is not defined here suggests that an earlier passage in Jewish Antiquities has already mentioned something of its significance.17 This phrase is also appropriate for a Jewish historian like Josephus because the reference to Jesus is a noncommittal, neutral statement about what some people called Jesus and not a confession of faith that actually asserts that he was Christ.

This phrase—“who is called Christ”—is very unlikely to have been added by a Christian for two reasons. First, in the New Testament and in the early Church Fathers of the first two centuries C.E., Christians consistently refer to James as “the brother of the Lord” or “of the Savior” and similar terms, not “the brother of Jesus,” presumably because the name Jesus was very common and did not necessarily refer to their Lord. Second, Josephus’s description in Jewish Antiquities of how and when James was executed disagrees with Christian tradition, likewise implying a non-Christian author.18

This short identification of James by the title that some people used in order to specify his brother gains credibility as an affirmation of Jesus’ existence because the passage is not about Jesus. Rather, his name appears in a functional phrase that is called for by the sense of the passage. It can only be useful for the identification of James if it is a reference to a real person, namely, “Jesus who is called Christ.”

This clear reference to Jesus is sometimes overlooked in debates about Josephus’s other, longer reference to Jesus (to be treated next). Quite a few people are aware of the questions and doubts regarding the longer mention of Jesus, but often this other clear, simple reference and its strength as evidence for Jesus’ existence does not receive due attention.

The longer passage in Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities (Book 18)19 that refers to Jesus is known as the Testimonium Flavianum.

If it has any value in relation to the question of Jesus’ existence, it counts as additional evidence for Jesus’ existence. The Testimonium Flavianum reads as follows; the parts that are especially suspicious because they sound Christian are in italics:20

Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.21 For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him, for on the third day, he appeared to them restored to life. The prophets of God had prophesied this and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.22

All surviving manuscripts of the Testimonium Flavianum that are in Greek, like the original, contain the same version of this passage, with no significant differences.

The main question is: Did Flavius Josephus write this entire report about Jesus and his followers, or did a forger or forgers alter it or possibly insert the whole report?23 There are three ways to answer this question:24

Alternative 1: The whole passage is authentic, written by Josephus.

Alternative 2: The whole passage is a forgery, inserted into Jewish Antiquities.

Alternative 3: It is only partly authentic, containing some material from Josephus, but also
some later additions by another hand(s).

Regarding Alternative 1, today almost no scholar accepts the authenticity of the entire standard Greek Testimonium Flavianum. In contrast to the obviously Christian statement “He was the Messiah” in the Testimonium, Josephus elsewhere “writes as a passionate advocate of Judaism,” says Josephus expert Steve Mason. “Everywhere Josephus praises the excellent constitution of the Jews, codified by Moses, and declares its peerless, comprehensive qualities … Josephus rejoices over converts to Judaism. In all this, there is not the slightest hint of any belief in Jesus”25 as seems to be reflected in the Testimonium.

The bold affirmation of Jesus as Messiah reads as a resounding Christian confession that echoes St. Peter himself!26 It cannot be Josephus. Alternative 1 is clearly out.

Regarding Alternative 2—the whole Testimonium Flavianum is a forgery—this is very unlikely. What is said, and the expressions in Greek that are used to say it, despite a few words that don’t seem characteristic of Josephus, generally fit much better with Josephus’s writings than with Christian writings.27 It is hypothetically possible that a forger could have learned to imitate Josephus’s style or that a reviser adjusted the passage to that style, but such a deep level of attention, based on an extensive, detailed reading of Josephus’s works and such a meticulous adoption of his vocabulary and style, goes far beyond what a forger or a reviser would need to do.

Even more important, the short passage (treated above) that mentions Jesus in order to identify James appears in a later section of the book (Book 20) and implies that Jesus was mentioned previously.
 


 
The BAS DVD Uncovering Early Christianity offers four exclusive full-length lectures by Bart Ehrman on topics ranging from forgeries and counter-forgeries in the New Testament to how and when Jesus became divine. Learn more >>
 

 
codex-parisinus

THE TESTIMONY OF JOSEPHUS. This 15th-century manuscript, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, contains the portion of Josephus’s Testimonium Flavianum that refers to Jesus (highlighted in blue). The first sentence of the manuscript, highlighted in green, reads, from the Greek, “Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.” The majority of scholars believe this passage of the Testimonium is based on the original writings of Josephus but contains later additions, likely made by Christian scribes. Photo: Codex Parisinus gr. 2075, 45v. Courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

The best-informed among the Romans understood Christus to be nothing more than a man’s personal name, on the level of Publius and Marcus. First-century Romans generally had no idea that calling someone “Christus” was an exalted reference, implying belief that he was the chosen one, God’s anointed. The Testimonium, in Book 18, appropriately found in the section that deals with Pilate’s time as governor of Judea,28 is apparently one of Josephus’s characteristic digressions, this time occasioned by mention of Pilate. It provides background for Josephus’s only other written mention of Jesus (in Book 20), and it connects the name Jesus with his Christian followers. The short reference to Jesus in the later book depends on the longer one in the earlier (Book 18). If the longer one is not genuine, this passage lacks its essential background. Alternative 2 should be rejected.

Alternative 3—that the Testimonium Flavianum is based on an original report by Josephus29 that has been modified by others, probably Christian scribes, seems most likely. After extracting what appear to be Christian additions, the remaining text appears to be pure Josephus. As a Romanized Jew, Josephus would not have presented these beliefs as his own. Interestingly, in three openly Christian, non-Greek versions of the Testimonium Flavianum analyzed by Steve Mason, variations indicate changes were made by others besides Josephus.30 The Latin version says Jesus “was believed to be the Messiah.” The Syriac version is best translated, “He was thought to be the Messiah.” And the Arabic version with open coyness suggests, “He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” Alternative 3 has the support of the overwhelming majority of scholars.

We can learn quite a bit about Jesus from Tacitus and Josephus, two famous historians who were not Christian. Almost all the following statements about Jesus, which are asserted in the New Testament, are corroborated or confirmed by the relevant passages in Tacitus and Josephus. These independent historical sources—one a non-Christian Roman and the other Jewish—confirm what we are told in the Gospels:31

1. He existed as a man. The historian Josephus grew up in a priestly family in first-century Palestine and wrote only decades after Jesus’ death. Jesus’ known associates, such as Jesus’ brother James, were his contemporaries. The historical and cultural context was second nature to Josephus. “If any Jewish writer were ever in a position to know about the non-existence of Jesus, it would have been Josephus. His implicit affirmation of the existence of Jesus has been, and still is, the most significant obstacle for those who argue that the extra-Biblical evidence is not probative on this point,” Robert Van Voorst observes.32 And Tacitus was careful enough not to report real executions of nonexistent people.

2. His personal name was Jesus, as Josephus informs us.

3. He was called Christos in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, both of which mean “anointed” or “(the) anointed one,” as Josephus states and Tacitus implies, unaware, by reporting, as Romans thought, that his name was Christus.

4. He had a brother named James (Jacob), as Josephus reports.

5. He won over both Jews and “Greeks” (i.e., Gentiles of Hellenistic culture), according to Josephus, although it is anachronistic to say that they were “many” at the end of his life. Large growth
in the number of Jesus’ actual followers came only after his death.

6. Jewish leaders of the day expressed unfavorable opinions about him, at least according to some versions of the Testimonium Flavianum.

7. Pilate rendered the decision that he should be executed, as both Tacitus and Josephus state.

8. His execution was specifically by crucifixion, according to Josephus.

9. He was executed during Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea (26–36 C.E.), as Josephus implies and Tacitus states, adding that it was during Tiberius’s reign.

Some of Jesus’ followers did not abandon their personal loyalty to him even after his crucifixion but submitted to his teaching. They believed that Jesus later appeared to them alive in accordance with prophecies, most likely those found in the Hebrew Bible. A well-attested link between Jesus and Christians is that Christ, as a term used to identify Jesus, became the basis of the term used to identify his followers: Christians. The Christian movement began in Judea, according to Tacitus. Josephus observes that it continued during the first century. Tacitus deplores the fact that during the second century it had spread as far as Rome.

As far as we know, no ancient person ever seriously argued that Jesus did not exist.33 Referring to the first several centuries C.E., even a scholar as cautious and thorough as Robert Van Voorst freely observes, “… [N]o pagans and Jews who opposed Christianity denied Jesus’ historicity or even questioned it.”34

Nondenial of Jesus’ existence is particularly notable in rabbinic writings of those first several centuries C.E.: “… [I]f anyone in the ancient world had a reason to dislike the Christian faith, it was the rabbis. To argue successfully that Jesus never existed but was a creation of early Christians would have been the most effective polemic against Christianity … [Yet] all Jewish sources treated Jesus as a fully historical person … [T]he rabbis … used the real events of Jesus’ life against him” (Van Voorst).35

Thus his birth, ministry and death occasioned claims that his birth was illegitimate and that he performed miracles by evil magic, encouraged apostasy and was justly executed for his own sins. But they do not deny his existence.36
 


 
Check out the web-exclusive supplement to Lawrence Mykytiuk’s “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible” feature from the March/April 2014 issue of BAR >>
 

 
Lucian of Samosata (c. 115–200 C.E.) was a Greek satirist who wrote The Passing of Peregrinus, about a former Christian who later became a famous Cynic and revolutionary and died in 165 C.E. In two sections of Peregrinus—here translated by Craig A. Evans—Lucian, while discussing Peregrinus’s career, without naming Jesus, clearly refers to him, albeit with contempt in the midst of satire:

It was then that he learned the marvelous wisdom of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And— what else?—in short order he made them look like children, for he was a prophet, cult leader, head of the congregation and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books, and wrote many himself. They revered him as a god, used him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector—to be sure, after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.37

For having convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most even willingly give themselves up. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws.38

Although Lucian was aware of the Christians’ “books” (some of which might have been parts of the New Testament), his many bits of misinformation make it seem very likely that he did not read them. The compound term “priests and scribes,” for example, seems to have been borrowed from Judaism, and indeed, Christianity and Judaism were sometimes confused among classical authors.

Lucian seems to have gathered all of his information from sources independent of the New Testament and other Christian writings. For this reason, this writing of his is usually valued as independent evidence for the existence of Jesus.

This is true despite his ridicule and contempt for Christians and their “crucified sophist.” “Sophist” was a derisive term used for cheats or for teachers who only taught for money. Lucian despised Christians for worshiping someone thought to be a criminal worthy of death and especially despised “the man who was crucified.”

▸ Celsus, the Platonist philosopher, considered Jesus to be a magician who made exorbitant claims.39

▸ Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor and friend of Tacitus, wrote about early Christian worship of Christ “as to a god.”40

▸ Suetonius, a Roman writer, lawyer and historian, wrote of riots in 49 C.E. among Jews in Rome which might have been about Christus but which he thought were incited by “the instigator Chrestus,” whose identification with Jesus is not completely certain.41

▸ Mara bar Serapion, a prisoner of war held by the Romans, wrote a letter to his son that described “the wise Jewish king” in a way that seems to indicate Jesus but does not specify his identity.42

Other documentary sources are doubtful or irrelevant.43

One can label the evidence treated above as documentary (sometimes called literary) or as archaeological. Almost all sources covered above exist in the form of documents that have been copied and preserved over the course of many centuries, rather than excavated in archaeological digs. Therefore, although some writers call them archaeological evidence, I prefer to say that these truly ancient texts are ancient documentary sources, rather than archaeological discoveries.

Some ossuaries (bone boxes) have come to light that are inscribed simply with the name Jesus (Yeshu or Yeshua‘ in Hebrew), but no one suggests that this was Jesus of Nazareth. The name Jesus was very common at this time, as was Joseph. So as far as we know, these ordinary ossuaries have nothing to do with the New Testament Jesus. Even the ossuary from the East Talpiot district of Jerusalem, whose inscription is translated “Yeshua‘, son of Joseph,” does not refer to him.44

As for the famous James ossuary first published in 2002,d whose inscription is translated “Jacob, son of Joseph, brother of Yeshua‘,” more smoothly rendered, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” it is unprovenanced, and it will likely take decades to settle the matter of whether it is authentic. Following well established, sound methodology, I do not base conclusions on materials whose authenticity is uncertain, because they might be forged.45 Therefore the James ossuary, which is treated in many other publications, is not included here.46

As a final observation: In New Testament scholarship generally, a number of specialists consider the question of whether Jesus existed to have been finally and conclusively settled in the affirmative. A few vocal scholars, however, still deny that he ever lived.47
 


 
“Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” by Lawrence Mykytiuk originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The article was first republished in Bible History Daily on December 8, 2014.
 

 
lawrence-mykytiukLawrence Mykytiuk is associate professor of library science and the history librarian at Purdue University. He holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Studies and is the author of the book Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004).
 

 

Notes:

a. Lawrence Mykytiuk, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible,” BAR, March/April 2014.

b. See biblicalarchaeology.org/50.

c. John P. Meier, “The Testimonium,” Bible Review, June 1991.

d. See André Lemaire, “Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus,” BAR, November/December 2002; Hershel Shanks, “‘Brother of Jesus’ Inscription Is Authentic!” BAR, July/August 2012.

1. I gratefully dedicate this article to my brother, Thomas S. Mykytiuk, to the memory of his wife, Nancy E. Mykytiuk, and to their growing tribe of descendants. I wish to thank Dr. Stuart D. Robertson of Purdue University, a Josephus scholar who studied under the great Louis H. Feldman, for kindly offering his comments on an early draft of this article. As the sole author, I alone am responsible for all of this article’s errors and shortcomings.

The previous BAR article is supplemented by two more persons, officials of Nebuchadnezzar II, mentioned in the “Queries and Comments” section, BAR, July/August 2014, bringing the actual total to 52. That previous article is based on my own research, because few other researchers had worked toward the twin goals I sought: first, developing the necessary methodology, and second, applying that methodology comprehensively to archaeological materials that relate to the Hebrew Bible. In contrast, this article treats an area that has already been thoroughly researched, so I have gleaned material from the best results previously obtained (may the reader pardon the many quotations).

Another contrast is that the challenge in the research that led to the previous article was to determine whether the inscriptions (down to 400 B.C.E.) actually referred to the Biblical figure. In the present article, most of the documents very clearly refer to the Jesus of the New Testament. Only in relatively few instances, such as some rabbinic texts, is the reference very unclear. The challenge in this article has been to evaluate the relative strength of the documents about Jesus as evidence, while keeping in mind whether they are independent of the New Testament.

2. Of course, the New Testament is actually a small library of texts, as is the Hebrew Bible.

3. Because Meier only covered writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, his article stays within the first century. This article covers writings that originated in the first several centuries C.E. These non-Christian sources deserve to be welcomed and examined by anyone interested in the historical aspect of Scripture. At the same time, Christian sources found in the New Testament and outside of it have great value as historical evidence and are not to be discounted or dismissed.

The Gospels, for example, are loosely parallel to writings by members of a Prime Minister’s or President’s cabinet, in that they are valuable for the firsthand information they provide from inner circles (F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, Knowing Christianity [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1974], pp. 14–15). While allowance must be made for human limitations (at least lack of omniscience) and bias (such as loyalty to a particular person or deity), no good historian would completely discard them.

An example that is more to the point is Bart D. Ehrman’s strong affirmation of Jesus’ existence in his Did Jesus Exist? (New York: HarperOne, 2012), pp. 142–174. It is based on New Testament data and is noteworthy for its down-to-earth perception. Ehrman bases his conclusion that Jesus existed on two facts: first, that the apostle Paul was personally acquainted with Jesus’ brother James and with the apostle Peter; and second, that, contrary to Jewish messianic expectation of the day, Jesus was crucified (Did Jesus Exist?, p. 173).

In the last analysis, all evidence from all sources must be considered. Both Biblical and non-Biblical sources “are in principle of equal value in the study of Jesus” (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998], p. 23). An excellent, up-to-date resource on both Christian and non-Christian sources is Craig A. Evans, ed., Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (New York: Routledge, 2008).

4. “As Norma Miller delightfully remarks, ‘The well-intentioned pagan glossers of ancient texts do not normally express themselves in Tacitean Latin,’ and the same could be said of Christian interpolators” (Norma P. Miller, Tacitus: Annals XV [London: Macmillan, 1971], p. xxviii, quoted in Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000], p. 43).

5. Annals XV.44, as translated in Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 42–43. Instead of the better-documented reading, “Chrestians,” the word “Christians” appears in a more traditional translation by Alfred J. Church and William J. Brodribb, Annals of Tacitus (London: Macmillan, 1882), pp. 304–305, and in an even earlier edition, which appears at www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Tacitus_on_Christ.html.

6. Along with these corroborations, Tacitus’s statement also contains difficulties that might cause concern. Three that I consider the most important are treated in this note. Although debates will continue, proper use of historical background offers reasonable, tenable solutions that we may hold with confidence while remaining open to new evidence and new interpretations if they are better. Every approach has difficulties to explain. I prefer those that come with this article’s approach, because I consider them smaller and more easily resolved than the problems of other approaches.

First, it is common for scholars to observe that Pontius Pilate’s official title when he governed Judaea (26/27–36 C.E.) was not procurator, as in the quotation from Tacitus above, but praefectus (in Latin, literally, “placed in charge”; in English, prefect), as stated on the “Pilate stone” discovered in 1961. This stone was lying in the ruins of the theater in the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima, on Israel’s northern seacoast. The stone had been trimmed down to be re-used twice, so the first part of the title is broken off, but the title is not in doubt. With square brackets marking missing letters that scholars have filled in, two of its four lines read “[Po]ntius Pilate . . . [Pref]ect of Juda[ea]”:

line 2 […PO]NTIUS PILATUS
line 3 […PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E

The inscription could potentially be dated to any time in Pilate’s career, but a date between 31 and 36 C.E. seems most likely. See Clayton Miles Lehmann and Kenneth G. Holum, The Greek and Latin Inscriptions of Caesarea Maritima, Joint Expedition to Caesarea Excavation Reports V (Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2000), pp. 67–70, no. 43, p. 249 Pl. XXVI.

The family name Pontius was common in some parts of Italy during that era, but the name Pilatus was “extremely rare” (A. N. Sherwin-White, “Pilate, Pontius,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986], p. 867). Because of the rarity of the name Pilatus and because only one Pontius Pilatus was ever the Roman governor of Judea, this identification should be regarded as completely certain.

It is possible that “procurator” in the quotation above is a simple error, but the historical background reveals that it is not so much an error as it is an anachronism—something placed out of its proper time, whether intentionally or by accident. As emperor until 14 C.E., Augustus gave governors of western and southern Judea the title praefectus. But later, Claudius (r. 41–54 C.E.) began conferring the title procurator pro legato, “procurator acting as legate” on new provincial governors. A procurator, literally, “caretaker,” was a steward who managed financial affairs on behalf of the owner. Roman governmental procurators managed taxes and estates on behalf of the emperor and had administrative duties. The English verb to procure is derived from the same root.

From then on, the title procurator replaced praefectus in many Roman provinces, including Judea. “So the early governors of western and southern Judea, after it became a Roman province in A.D. 6, were officially entitled praefecti. Later writers, however, usually referred to them anachronistically as procurators or the Greek equivalent …” (A. N. Sherwin-White, “Procurator,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 979.)

Writing in 116 or 117 C.E., Tacitus, who was above all a careful writer, might have intentionally chosen to use the then-current title procurator in keeping with the anachronistic way of speaking that was common in his day. Even today, we accept titles used anachronistically. One might read comparable statements about “U.S. Secretaries of Defense from Henry Stimson during World War II to Chuck Hagel,” even though Stimson’s actual title was Secretary of War, and the current title is Secretary of Defense. Readers who are unfamiliar with Stimson’s title would nevertheless understand which position he held in the government.

Whether procurator was used intentionally or not, in effect this anachronistic term helped readers quickly understand Pilate’s official position and avoided confusing people who were not familiar with the older title.

The second difficulty is that Tacitus’s word for “Christians” is spelled two different ways in existing Latin manuscripts of Annals: both Christianoi and Chrestianoi. The name Chrestus, meaning “good, kind, useful, beneficent,” was commonly given to slaves who served Roman masters. In spoken conversation, people in Rome could easily have mistakenly heard the Latinized foreign word Christus as the familiar name Chrestus. Chrestianoi, “good, kind, useful ones,” is found in the oldest surviving manuscript of this passage in Tacitus.

[T]he original hand of the oldest surviving manuscript, the Second Medicean (eleventh century), which is almost certainly the source of all other surviving manuscripts, reads Chrestianoi, “Chrestians.” A marginal gloss “corrects” it to Christianoi. Chrestianoi is to be preferred as the earliest and most difficult reading and is adopted by the three current critical editions and the recent scholarship utilizing them. It also makes better sense in context. Tacitus is correcting, in a way typical of his style of economy, the misunderstanding of the “crowd” (vulgus) by stating that the founder of this name (auctor nominis eius) is Christus, not the name implicitly given by the crowd, Chrestus. Tacitus could have written auctor superstitionis, “the founder of this superstition,” or something similar, but he calls attention by his somewhat unusual phrase to the nomen [name] of the movement in order to link it directly—and correctly—to the name of Christ (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 43–44. See also John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Anchor Bible Reference Library [New York: Doubleday, 1991], p. 100, note 7.).

It is very common for ancient classical writings to be represented by manuscripts that were copied many centuries later. For example, the earliest manuscript of the Odyssey is from the 900s C.E., yet it is traditionally ascribed to the blind Greek poet Homer, who is dated variously from about the 800s to the 500s B.C.E., roughly 1,400 to 1,700 years earlier. Similarly, it is not unusual for the earliest surviving manuscripts of various works of the Greek philosopher Plato to date from over 1,000 years after he wrote.

For a technical, critical discussion of Christus and Chrestus in English, see Robert Renahan, “Christus or Chrestus in Tacitus?” Past and Present 23 (1968), pp. 368–370.

The third difficulty is more apparent than real: Why did it take about 85 years for a classical author such as Tacitus to write about Jesus, whose crucifixion occurred c. 29 C.E.? (The A.D. system, devised by the Christian Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus [“Dennis the Small”] in the 525 C.E. and used in our present-day calendar, was not perfectly set on the exact year of Jesus’ birth, though it was close. As a result, Jesus was born within the years we now refer to as 6 to 4 B.C.E. That would put the beginning of his ministry, around age 30 (Luke 3:23), at c. 25 C.E. In the widely held view that Jesus’ ministry lasted 3.5 years before his death, a reasonable date for the crucifixion is c. 29 C.E.)

The following two observations made by F. F. Bruce are relevant to works by Tacitus and by several other classical writers who mention Jesus:

1. Surprisingly few classical writings, comparatively speaking, survive from the period of about the first 50 years of the Christian church (c. 29 to 80 C.E.). (Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins, p. 17.)

2. Roman civilization paid almost no attention to obscure religious leaders in faraway places, such as Jesus in Judea—just as today’s Western nations pay almost no attention to religious leaders in remote parts of the world, unless the national interest is involved. Rome became concerned only when Christians grew numerous. (Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins, pp. 17–18. For thorough discussion, see Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 68–71.)

A time factor that affects Tacitus in particular is:

3. In the Annals, the reference to Jesus appears only in connection with the cruel treatment of Christians in Rome by Nero, as part of a biography of Nero (d. 68 C.E.). By happenstance, Tacitus did not get around to composing Nero’s biography until the last group of narratives he wrote before he died. A writer for most of his life, Tacitus began with works on oratory, ethnography of German tribes and other subjects. His book Histories, written c. 100–110, which covers the reigns of later Roman emperors after Nero, was actually written before his book Annals, which covers the earlier reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. Thus Tacitus wrote his biography of Nero at the end of his career.

7. Asia was the name of a Roman province in what is now western Turkey (Asia Minor).

8. Perhaps he compared it to Roman records, whether in general governmental archives or in records concerning various religions. I have read one analysis by an author who arbitrarily assumes that Tacitus got his information only from Christians—no other source. Then, on the sole basis of the author’s own assumption, the analysis completely dismisses Tacitus’s clear historical statement about “Christus.” This evaluation is based on opinion, not evidence. It also undervalues Tacitus’s very careful writing and his discernment as a historian. He likely had access to some archives through his status, either as Proconsul of Asia, as a senator—or, as is often overlooked, from his connections as a high-ranking priest of Roman religion. In 88 C.E., he became “a member of the Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis [“The Board of Fifteen for Performing Sacrifices”], the priestly organization charged, among other things, with … supervising the practice of officially tolerated foreign cults in the city … [and facing] the growing necessity to distinguish illicit Christianity from licit Judaism” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 52), or, given Jewish resistance to oppressive measures taken by Rome, at least to keep a close watch on developments within Judaism. Indeed, “a Roman archive … is particularly suggested by the note of the temporary suppression of the superstition, which indicates an official perspective” (Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 83). Membership in this priestly regulatory group very likely gave Tacitus access to at least some of the accurate knowledge he possessed about Christus. With characteristic brevity, he reported the facts as he understood them, quickly dismissing the despised, executed Christus from the Annals (see Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, p. 90).

Tacitus himself tells us … that in 88 [C.E.] both in his capacity as priest of the college of quindecimviri sacris faciundis and as a praetor he had been present at and had paid close attention to the ludi saeculares [“secular games”] celebrated by Domitian in that year… [Annals, XI.11, 3–4]. It rather sounds as if he took his religious office seriously …

Tacitus presents himself as a man concerned to preserve traditional Roman religious practice, convinced that when religious matters are allowed to slide or are completely disregarded, the gods will vent their anger on the Roman people to correct their error. What on his view angers the gods is not so much failure to observe the niceties of ritual practice, as disdain for the moral order that the gods uphold” (Matthew W. Dickie, “Magic in the Roman Historians,” in Richard Lindsay Gordon and Francisco Marco Simón, eds., Magical Practice in the Latin West: Papers from the International Conference Held at the University of Zaragoza, 30 Sept. – 1st Oct. 2005, Religions in the Greco-Roman World, vol. 168 [Leiden: Brill, 2010], pp. 82, 83).

Tacitus was in his twenties in 79 C.E., when an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius annihilated the city of Pompeii. One can reasonably suppose how he might have interpreted this disaster in relation to the Roman gods.

9. Quoted from Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 64.

10. Titus’s troops captured and treated as war booty the sacred menorah that had stood in the holy place inside the Temple. See articles on the menorah as depicted on the Arch of Titus, in Yeshiva University’s Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project, etc., at yeshiva.academia.edu/StevenFine/Menorah-Arch-of-Titus-Digital-Restoration-Project.

11. Jewish Antiquities, XX.200 (or, in Whiston’s translation of Jewish Antiquities, XX.9.1).

12. James’s name was actually Jacob. Odd as it may seem, the English name James is ultimately derived from the Hebrew name Jacob.

13. Jewish Antiquities, XX.9.1 in Whiston’s translation (§200 in scholarly editions), as translated by Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, p. 57. Meier’s original passage includes the phrases in square brackets [ ]. The omitted words indicated by the ellipsis (…) are in Greek, to let scholars know what words are translated into English.

14. Winter asserts that Josephus mentions about twelve others named Jesus. Feldman puts that number at 21. See Paul Winter, “Excursus II: Josephus on Jesus and James: Ant. xviii 3, 3 (63–64) and xx 9,1 (200–203),” in Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, 3 vols., rev. and ed. by Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, Matthew Black and Martin Goodman (Edinburgh: Clark, 1973–1987), vol. 1, p. 431; Louis H. Feldman, “Introduction,” in Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata, eds., Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1987), p. 56.

15. See Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, pp. 57–58. Messiah, the Hebrew term for “anointed (one),” came through Greek translation (Christos) into English as Christ.

16. See Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, p. 59, note 12; pp. 72–73, note 12.

17. Richard T. France, The Evidence for Jesus, The Jesus Library (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1986), p. 26.

18. Josephus says James was executed by stoning before the Jewish War began, but Christian tradition says he was executed during the Jewish War by being thrown from a height of the Temple, then, after an attempt to stone him was prevented, finally being clubbed to death. See Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, p. 58.

19. XVIII.63–64 (in Whiston’s translation: XVIII.3.1).

20. It was modern scholar John P. Meier who put these passages in italics.

21. Christians believe that Jesus was fully human, but also fully Divine, having two natures in one person. To refer to him as “a wise man,” as the earlier part of the sentence does, would seem incomplete to a Christian. This clause seems intended to lead toward the two boldly Christian statements that come later.

22. This straightforward translation from Greek, in which I have italicized three phrases, is by Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 65–66.

In his Bible Review article (Meier, “The Testimonium,” Bible Review, June 1991, p. 23), John P. Meier subtracts these three apparently Christian portions from the Testimonium. What remains is a very plausible suggestion, possibly the authentic, smoothly flowing report written by Flavius Josephus—or very close to it. Here is the remainder:

Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out (Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 65–66, after deleting the apparent Christian additions as Meier would).

23. Regarding differing religious convictions of readers that have generated disagreements about this passage at least since medieval times, see Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times, Studies in Biblical Literature, vol. 36 (New York: Peter Lang, 2003). Whealey’s observations in her conclusion, pp. 203–207, may be summarized as follows:

In the High Middle Ages (c. 1050–1350), Jewish scholars claimed it was a Christian forgery that was inserted into Josephus’s text, and Christians simply claimed it was entirely authentic. The problem was that with few exceptions, both sides argued from a priori assumptions with no critical examination of evidence. In the late 1500s and the 1600s, some Protestant scholars made the public charge of forgery. By the mid-1700s, based on textual evidence, scholarly opinion had rejected the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum and the controversy largely ended for over two centuries.

Twentieth-century scholars, however, revived the controversy on the basis of “new” variations of the text and whole works from ancient times that had been overlooked. Instead of the generally Protestant character of the earlier controversy, the controversy that began in the twentieth century is “more academic and less sectarian … marked by the presence of Jewish scholars for the first time as prominent participants on both sides of the question, and in general the attitudes of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and secular scholars towards the text have drawn closer together” (p. 206).

24. Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 65–69. Meier, “The Testimonium,” Bible Review, June 1991, gives the third answer.

25. Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), p. 229.

26. Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20.

27. According to Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 66–67, unless otherwise noted, these phrases that are characteristic of Josephus include: 1) Calling Jesus “a wise man” and calling his miracles “surprising deeds”; 2) Use of one of Josephus’s favorite phrases, “accept the truth gladly,” that in the “gladly” part includes the Greek word for “pleasure” which for Christian writers of this era, as a rule, had a bad connotation; 3) The reference to attracting “many of the Greeks” (meaning Hellenistic Gentiles), which fits better with Rome in Josephus’s time than with the references to Gentiles in the Gospels, which are few (such as John 12:20–22). On the style being that of Josephus, see also Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 89–91; 4) “The execution of Jesus by Pilate on the denunciation of the Jewish authorities shows acquaintance with legal conditions in Judaea and contradicts the tendency of the Christian reports of the trial of Jesus, which incriminate the Jews but play down Pilate’s responsibility” (Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 67); 5) Calling Christians a “tribe” tends to show a Jewish perspective.

28. On whether the Testimonium Flavianum interrupts the structure of its literary context, see Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 67–68, under “The interpolation hypothesis.” They describe E. Norden’s analysis (in German) of the context in Jewish Antiquities. Also see France, Evidence for Jesus, pp. 27–28, which mentions that Josephus’s typical sequencing includes digressions. Josephus’s key vocabulary regarding revolts is absent from the section on Jesus, perhaps removed by a Christian copyist who refused to perpetuate Josephus’s portrayal of Jesus as a real or potential rebel political leader.

29. Various scholars have suggested that Josephus’s original text took a hostile view of Jesus, but others, that it took a neutral to slightly positive view of him. See Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 68–71 (hostile views) and pp. 71–74 (neutral to slightly positive views).

30. Josephus scholar Steve Mason observes, “Long after Eusebius, in fact, the text of the testimonium remained fluid. Jerome (342–420), the great scholar who translated the Bible and some of Eusebius into Latin, gives a version that agrees closely with standard text, except that the crucial phrase says of Jesus, ‘He was believed to be the Messiah’” (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, p. 230, italics his. A decades-long, simmering debate continues about whether Jerome’s translation accurately represents what Josephus wrote.).

Besides Jerome’s Latin version, other examples of variation in manuscripts that are mentioned by Mason include an Arabic rendering and a version in Syriac. The Syriac language developed from Aramaic and is the (or an) official language of some branches of Orthodox Christianity.

A passage in a tenth-century Arabic Christian manuscript written by a man named Agapius appears to be a version of the Testimonium Flavianum. Shlomo Pines gives the following translation from the Arabic:

Similarly Josephus [Yūsīfūs] the Hebrew. For he says that in the treatises that he has written on the governance [?] of the Jews: ‘At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

This is what is said by Josephus and his companions of our Lord the Messiah, may he be glorified (Shlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and Its Implications [Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971), pp. 8–10).

Feldman thinks that Agapius mixed in source material from writers besides Josephus and provided “a paraphrase, rather than a translation” (Louis H. Feldman, Josephus and Modern Scholarship, 1937–1980 [New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1984], p. 701). John P. Meier tends not to attribute much significance to Agapius’s description of the Testimonium Flavianum; see Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1, pp. 78–79, note 37.

Of the three apparently Christian portions that are italicized in the translation of the Greek text above, the first is missing, and the other two are phrased as neutral statements (“they reported” he was alive, “he was perhaps” the Messiah), rather than as affirmations of Christian faith, such as, “He was” the Messiah, “He appeared” alive again.

Mason also refers to Pines’s translation of a version in Syriac found in the writings of Michael, the Patriarch of Antioch:

The writer Josephus also says in his work on the institutions of the Jews: In these times there was a wise man named Jesus, if it is fitting for us to call him a man. For he was a worker of glorious deeds and a teacher of truth. Many from among the Jews and the nations became his disciples. He was thought to be the Messiah. But not according to the testimony of the principal [men] of [our] nation. Because of this, Pilate condemned him to the cross, and he died. For those who had loved him did not cease to love him. He appeared to them alive after three days. For the prophets of God had spoken with regard to him of such marvelous [as these]. And the people of the Christians, named after him, has not disappeared till [this] day” (Pines, Arabic Version, pp. 26–27).

Pines adds a note about the Syriac text of the sentence “He was thought to be the Messiah”: “This sentence may also be translated Perhaps he was the Messiah.”

These Latin, Arabic and Syriac versions most likely represent genuine, alternative textual traditions. “The Christian dignitaries who innocently report these versions as if they came from Josephus had no motive, it seems, to weaken their testimony to Jesus” (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, p. 231). Actually, Christians tended to make references to Jesus more glorious. Nor is there any indication that anti-Christian scribes reduced the references to Jesus from glorious to mundane, which would likely have been accompanied by disparagement. “It seems probable, therefore, that the versions of Josephus’s statement given by Jerome, Agapius and Michael reflect alternative textual traditions of Josephus which did not contain” the bold Christian confessions that appear in the standard Greek version (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, p. 231). They contain variations that exhibit a degree of the fluidity that Mason emphasizes (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, pp. 230–231). But these versions are not so different that they are unrecognizable as different versions of the Testimonium Flavianum. They use several similar phrases and refer to the same events, presenting phrases and events in a closely similar order, with few exceptions. Thus, along with enough agreement among the standard Greek text and the non-Greek versions to reveal a noteworthy degree of stability, their differences clearly exhibit the work of other hands after Josephus. (It is by this stability that we may recognize many lengthy additions and disagreements with the manuscript texts of the Testimonium Flavianum that are found in a passage sometimes called the Testimonium Slavianum that was apparently inserted into the Old Russian translation, called the Slavonic version, of Josephus’s other major work, The Jewish War.)

In the process of finding the similarities of phrases and references in extant manuscripts, one can come to recognize that the standard Greek form of the Testimonium Flavianum is simply one textual tradition among several. On balance, the Greek version is not necessarily supreme over all other textual traditions (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, pp. 234–236). Despite a degree of stability in the text, the fluidity that is evident in various textual traditions is plain evidence that what Josephus wrote was later altered. When viewed from the standpoint of the Latin, Arabic and Syriac versions, the Greek text looks deliberately altered to make Josephus seem to claim that Jesus was the Messiah, possibly by omitting words that indicated that people called him Christos or thought, said, reported or believed that he was. Also, although of course the evidence is the crucial factor, alternative 3 also happens to have the support of the overwhelming majority of scholars, far more than any other view.

31. Almost all of the following points are listed and elaborated in Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 99–102.

32. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 99.

33. “The non-Christian testimonies to Jesus … show that contemporaries in the first and second century saw no reason to doubt Jesus’ existence” (Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, p. 63).

34. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 15. His footnote attached to this sentence states, with reference to Justin Martyr:

The only possible attempt at this argument known to me is in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, written in the middle of the second century. At the end of chapter 8, Trypho, Justin’s Jewish interlocutor, states, “But [the] Christ—if indeed he has been born and exists anywhere—is unknown, and does not even know himself, and has no power until Elijah comes to anoint him and make him known to all. Accepting a groundless report, you have invented a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake you are unknowingly perishing.” This may be a faint statement of a nonexistence hypothesis, but it is not developed or even mentioned again in the rest of the Dialogue, in which Trypho assumes the existence of Jesus (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 15, note 35).

Even in this statement, in which Trypho tries to imply that an existing report of Jesus as the Christ is erroneous, his reason is not necessarily that Jesus did not exist. Rather, he might well have wanted to plant the doubt that—although Jesus existed, as Trypho consistently assumes throughout the rest of the dialogue— the “report” that Jesus was the Christ was “groundless,” and that later on, someone else might arise who would prove to be the true Christ. Trypho was attempting to raise hypothetical doubt without here stating any actual grounds for doubt. These suggestions, more likely taunts, from Trypho, which he immediately abandons, cannot be regarded as an argument, let alone a serious argument. They are simply an unsupported doubt, apparently regarding Jesus’ being the Messiah.

35. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 133–134.

36. The chief difficulty in working with rabbinic writings that might be about Jesus is that

it is not always clear if Jesus (variously called Yeshua or Yeshu, with or without the further designation ha-Noṣri [meaning “the Nazarene”]) is in fact the person to whom reference is being made, especially when certain epithets are employed (e.g. Balaam, Ben Pandira, Ben Stada, etc. … Another serious problem in making use of these traditions is that it is likely that none of it is independent of Christian sources (Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans, eds., Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, 2nd impression, New Testament Tools and Studies, vol. 6 (Boston: Brill, 1998, 1994), pp. 443–444).

Thus Van Voorst finds that “most passages alleged to speak about him in code do not in fact do so, or are so late as to have no value” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 129).

From among the numerous rabbinic traditions, many of which seem puzzling in their potential references to Jesus, a fairly clear example is as follows:

And it is tradition: On the eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu ha-Noṣri. And the herald went forth before him for forty days, “Yeshu ha-Noṣri is to be stoned, because he has practiced magic and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and speak concerning him.” And they found nothing in his favor. And they hanged him on the eve of the Passover. Ulla says, “Would it be supposed that Yeshu ha-Noṣri was one for whom anything in his favor might be said? Was he not a deceiver? And the Merciful has said, ‘Thou shalt not spare, neither shalt thou conceal him’ [Deuteronomy 13:8]. But it was different with Yeshu ha-Noṣri, for he was near to the kingdom’” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a; compare Sanhedrin 67a).

The following paragraph summarizes Craig A. Evans’s comments on the above quotation from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a:

According to John 18:28 and 19:14, Jesus’ execution occurred during Passover. The phrase “near to the kingdom” might refer to the Christian tradition that Jesus was a descendant of King David (Matthew 1:1; Mark 10:47, 48), or it could refer to Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15). Deuteronomy 13:1–11 prescribes death by stoning for leading other Israelites astray to serve other gods, giving a sign or wonder, and Deuteronomy 21:21–22 requires that “when a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, you shall hang him on a tree” (compare the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6:4, “All who have been stoned must be hanged”). When Judea came under Roman rule, which instituted crucifixion as a legal punishment, apart from the question of whether it was just or unjust, Jews roughly equated it with hanging on a tree. (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 448)

The passage above simultaneously implies the rabbis’ view that Jesus really existed and encapsulates the rabbis’ uniformly negative view of his miracles as magic and his teachings as deceit (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 120).

37. Passing of Peregrinus, §11, as translated in Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 462.

38. This paragraph is a separate quotation from Passing of Peregrinus, §11, again as translated in Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 462.

39. On Celsus: in c. 176 C.E., Celsus, a Platonist philosopher in Alexandria, wrote The True Word (this title is also translated as The True Doctrine, or The True Discourse, or The True Account, etc.) to lodge his severe criticisms of Judaism and Christianity. Although that work has not survived, it is quoted and paraphrased in Origen’s reply in defense of Christianity, Against Celsus (c. 248 C.E.). Prominent among his many accusations to which Origen replies is as follows:

Next he makes the charge of the savior that it was by magic that he was able to do the miracles which he appeared to have done, and foreseeing that others also, having learned the same lessons and being haughty to act with the power of God, are about to do the same thing, such persons Jesus would drive away from his own society.

For he says, “He was brought up in secret and hired himself out as a workman in Egypt, and having tried his hand at certain magical powers he returned from there, and on account of those powers gave himself the title of God” (Origen, Against Celsus, 1.6, 38, as translated in Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 460).

It is unknown whether Celsus became aware of information about Jesus, including reports of his miracles, from the Gospel tradition(s) or independently of them. Thus it cannot be said that Celsus adds any new historical material about Jesus, though it is clear that in accusing Jesus of using magic for personal gain, Celsus assumed his existence.

Charges that Jesus was a magician are common in ancient writings, and Christian replies have been published even very recently. Evans refers readers to “an assessment of the polemic that charges Jesus with sorcery”: Graham N. Stanton, “Jesus of Nazareth: A Magician and a False Prophet Who Deceived God’s People?” in Joel B. Green and Max Turner, eds., Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology, I. Howard Marshall Festschrift (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 166–182 (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 460, note 45).

40. On Pliny the Younger: A friend of Tacitus, and like him the governor of a Roman province (in 110 C.E.), Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (c. 61–113 C.E.), known as Pliny, seems to have been excessively dependent on the Emperor Trajan for directions on how to govern. In his lengthy correspondence with Trajan, titled Epistles, X.96, along with his inquiries about how to treat people accused of being Christians, Pliny wrote:

They [the Christians] assured me that the sum total of their error consisted in the fact that that they regularly assembled on a certain day before daybreak. They recited a hymn antiphonally to Christus as to a god and bound themselves with an oath not to commit any crime, but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, breach of faith, and embezzlement of property entrusted to them. After this, it was their custom to separate, and then to come together again to partake of a meal, but an ordinary and innocent one (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 459)

The things that Pliny wrote about Christians can be found in or deduced from the New Testament. He reveals nothing new about Jesus himself, nor can his letters be considered evidence for Jesus’ existence, only for Christian belief in his existence. One may note what seems to have been early second century Christian belief in Jesus as deity, as well as the sizable population of Christians worshiping him in Pliny’s province, Bithynia, in Asia Minor, despite Roman prohibition and punishments.

41. On Suetonius: In c. 120 C.E., the Roman writer, lawyer and historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 70–140 C.E.), a friend of Pliny, wrote the following in his history, On the Lives of the Caesars, speaking of an event in 49 C.E.: “He [Claudius] expelled the Jews from Rome, because they were always making disturbances because of the instigator Chrestus” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 30).

In the first place, the term “the Jews” could refer to Christians, whom Romans viewed as members of a Jewish sect. So the “disturbances” could be understood as riots among Jews, among Christians viewed as Jews, or, most likely, between those whom we would call Jews and Christians.

The use of the name “Chrestus” creates more ambiguity in this passage than the term “Chrestians” did in the passage in Tacitus treated above. Tacitus implicitly corrected the crowd. Here, with Suetonius speaking of events in 49 C.E., we have two options to choose from. The first option is that it’s a spelling of a mispronunciation of Christus, which Romans thought was Jesus’ name. If so, then Suetonius misunderstood Christus, whom he called “Chrestus,” to be an instigator. Suetonius’s key appositive phrase, “impulsore Chresto,” is much more accurately translated “the instigator Chrestus” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 31) than the usual “at the instigation of Chrestus” (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 29). Another logical result would be that the uproarious disputes in 49 C.E. were actually disturbances sparked by disagreement about who Jesus was and/or what he said and did. Considering the two sides, namely, the rabbinic view that he was a magician and deceitful teacher, versus early Christians whose worship was directed to him “as to a god” (as described from the Roman perspective of Pliny the Younger), one can see how synagogues could become deeply divided.

The second option is that it refers to an otherwise unknown “instigator” of disturbances who bore the common name of slaves and freedmen, Chrestus. Actually, among hundreds of Jewish names in the catacombs of Rome, there is not one instance of Chrestus being the name of a Jew (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, p. 33). For this and other reasons, it seems more likely that Suetonius, who often uncritically repeated errors in his sources, was referring to Christus, that is, Jesus, but misunderstood him to be an agitator who lived in Rome in 49 C.E. (Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 29–39).

42. On Mara bar Serapion: In the last quarter of the first century C.E., a prisoner of war following the Roman conquest of Samosata (see under Lucian), Mara bar Serapion wrote a letter to his son, Serapion. In Stoic fashion, he wanted his son to seek wisdom in order to handle life’s misfortunes with virtue and composure.

For what advantage did the Athenians gain by the murder of Socrates, the recompense of which they received in famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because in one hour their country was entirely covered in sand? Or the Jews by the death of their wise king, because from that same time their kingdom was taken away? 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 teaching 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 (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” pp. 455–456)

All we know of the author comes from this letter. Mara does not seem to have been a Christian, because he does not refer to a resurrection of Jesus and because his terminology, such as “wise king,” is not the usual Christian way of referring to Jesus. It is entirely possible that Mara received some knowledge of Jesus from Christians but did not name him for fear of displeasing his own Roman captors. His nameless reference makes the identification of “the wise king” as Jesus, though reasonable, still somewhat uncertain.

43. Doubtful sources contain “second- and third-hand traditions that reflect for the most part vague acquaintance with the Gospel story and controversies with Christians. These sources offer nothing independent” (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 443). Doubtful sources include the following:

Many rabbinic sources, including the Sepher Toledot Yeshu, “The Book of the Generations of Jesus” (meaning his ancestry or history; compare Matthew 1:1). It might be generally datable to as early as the eighth century C.E. but “may well contain a few oral traditions that go back to the third century.” It is “nothing more than a late collection of traditions, from Christian as well as from Jewish sources … full of fictions assembled for the primary purpose of anti-Christian polemic and propaganda,” and has no historical value regarding the question of Jesus’ existence (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 450).

The Slavonic (or Old Russian) Version of Josephus’s Jewish War “contains numerous passages … [which] tell of Jesus’ amazing deeds, of the jealousy of the Jewish leaders, of bribing Pilate,” etc. (Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” p. 451). These additions have no demonstrated historical value. The Yosippon (or Josippon) is a medieval source which appears in many versions, often with many additions. Its core is a Hebrew version of portions of Josephus’s writings that offers nothing from before the fourth century C.E. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain no contemporary references to Jesus or his followers. Islamic traditions either depend on the New Testament or are not clearly traceable to the early centuries C.E.

44. Regarding archaeological discoveries, along with many other scholars, I do not find that the group of ossuaries (bone boxes) discovered in the East Talpiot district of Jerusalem can be used as a basis for any conclusions about Jesus of Nazareth or his family. See the variety of views presented in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? Exploring Ancient Jewish Tombs Near Jerusalem’s Walls (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), especially the essay by Rachel Hachlili, “What’s in a Name?” pp. 125–149. She concludes, “In light of all the above the East Talpiot tomb is a Jewish family tomb with no connection to the historical Jesus family; it is not the family tomb of Jesus and most of the presented facts for the identification are speculation and guesswork” (p. 143).

45. See Nili S. Fox, In the Service of the King: Officialdom in Ancient Israel and Judah, Monographs of the Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 2000), pp. 23–32; Christopher A. Rollston, “Non-Provenanced Epigraphs I: Pillaged Antiquities, Northwest Semitic Forgeries, and Protocols for Laboratory Tests,” Maarav 10 (2003), pp. 135–193, and his “Non-Provenanced Epigraphs II: The Status of Non-Provenanced Epigraphs within the Broader Corpus of Northwest Semitic,” Maarav 11 (2004), pp. 57–79.

46. See Craig A. Evans, Jesus and the Ossuaries (Waco, TX: Baylor Univ. Press, Markham Press Fund, 2003), pp. 112–115. Regarding identification of the people named in the James ossuary inscription, even if it is authentic, the question as to whether it refers to Jesus of Nazareth has not been clearly settled. It is worth observing that its last phrase, “the brother of Jesus,” whose authenticity is disputed, is not the characteristic Christian way of referring to Jesus, which would be “the brother of the Lord,” but this observation hardly settles the question.

47. On G. A. Wells and Michael Martin, see Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), pp. 27–46. On others who deny Jesus’ existence, see Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? , especially pp. 61–64, 177–264.

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  1. Paul says

    It’s fascinating how this textbook article included a possible historical reference to Jesus in the B.T. Sanhedrin 43a which states; “But it was different with Yeshru ha-Nosri (Jesus of Nazareth), for he was near to the kingdom.” In the above footnote #36, Craig Evans offers possible explanations for the meaning of “near to the kingdom.” It would seem to me though, that this rabbinical reference could apply to the millennial movement that began as a response to the persecution of the Jewish people under the Seleucid king Antiochus IV during the early 2nd century B.C.E., and who converted the Jerusalem temple to paganism and was cited by Jesus on the Mount of Olives as the “desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (Matthew 24:15, Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 1 Maccabees 1:54, 6:7).The Talmud, it seems, is distinguishing Jesus of Nazareth from other failed movements like the “Egyptian who started a revolt some time ago and led the 4000 assassins (Sicarii) into the desert” (Acts 22:38), though it condemns Jesus as a deceiver like the Egyptian false prophet; “…for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a a prophet also, and got together 30,000 men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which is called Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place…” (Josephus, War 261-263, Antiquities 20:169-171). So unlike those who resorted to terror tactics in God’s name, Jesus was “closer to the kingdom” established by God in the apocalyptic tradition.
    “What happened, however, after the sixties of the second century B.C.E. was far from the towering visions of millennial consummation that had been produced in that dramatic decade. The age of the pious did not ‘approach a thousand years,’ as imagined in Jubilees 23:27. ‘The Devil’ did not ‘have an end,’ nor was ‘sorrow … led away with him,’ as promised in Testament of Moses 10:1. No ‘everlasting kingdom’ was ‘given to the people of the saints of the most high,’ nor did ‘all dominions … serve and obey them,’ as pledged in Danial 7:27, And, finally, all the sheep, all the beasts, and all the birds were not finally united so that the Lord ‘rejoiced with great joy because they had all become gentle and returned to his house,’ as climactically envisaged in the Animal Apocalypse at 1 Enoch 90:33. What actually happened was that first there were the Maccabees, and then there were the Romans. And so, apocalyptic vision, millenial dream, and transcendental hope continued to be written anew or reread again” (“The Historical Jesus; The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant” by John Dominic Crossan, p. 106).

  2. Wardell says

    Jesus did exist, but this article did not find. The two reliable Jewish sources The Talmud ( Sanhedrin 43a and 107b) and the Talpiot Tomb have been discounted. These are labeled as Non-Christian ! Jesus was Jewish, Jesus was before Christianity.

    Jesus was born in 100 BCE under King Alexander Yannai. He was a student of Joshua ben Perachiah, a Pharisee. in 88 BCE the teacher took Jesus into exile in Alexandria Egypt during the Pharisaic rebellion against King Alexander, until the King died in 76 BCE. Jesus returned from Alexander Egypt at age 24 years old.

    Jesus realized that Pharisees had deviated from Torah Judaism and Calendar. Jesus joined the Hassidim/Essenes who had separated from the Maccabean Priesthood and Temple. This period is documented in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where Jesus aka Teacher of Righteousness aka Jesus ben Notzri aka Jesus ben Pandira.

    Jesus was captured by Hyrcanus II, the Wicked Priest and killed in 67 BCE.. Jesus was buried in Talpiot. Jesus family had connections to Queen Salome. This is the Jesus Movement that evolved into Christianity under Paul. The Essenes were the proto-Christians, Jesus became their leader in 76 BCE and was killed in 67 BCE.. Jesus was contemporaneous with Caesar, Herod, Cleopatra, etc.

    Jesus was a Jew, Jewish History is where one should look. The Dead sea Scrolls and the Talmud reflect the conflict between Jesus/Essene and the Pharisees.

    The Talpiot Tomb is 1st Century BCE, Not CE ! Jesus Family was from Jerusalem, not Bethlehem Bible Story. Jesus could be born in the “City of David” in Jerusalem.

    This article is Blinded by the Bible Mythology as a guide to HISTORY. Jewish History is the key to Jesus’ history and it starts in 100 BCE ! The Dead Sea Scrolls is Jesus’ side (Teacher of Righteousness) and The Talmud is the Pharisee side..

    http://jewishchristianlit.com/Topics/JewishJesus/

  3. jhon says

    ׳close to the kingdom’ is generally understood to mean that he had political connections.

  4. ilan says

    Sorry, I feel Daniel Unterbrink has got it right in claiming that Judas of Galilee and Jesus of Nazareth were one and the same person, the similarities too coincidental and the fact that Judas the Galilean was not a later forgery and had more lines written about him which ties into everything that Jesus did, though the so called Messiah Jesus again, got 1 line interpolated later and an overall fabricated history. Judas was a real Messianic claimant and it was his life that was the composite for the later tales of Jesus.

    So far I haven’t found one person of scholastic credentials in the theological realm who can argue with Unterbrinks hypothesis. But does prove that sources that claim Paul to be the Man of Lies to have his number for sure.

    He also discusses James as well on this site.

    http://thethreemessiahs.wordpress.com//

    also check http://debatingchristianity.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=26255&start=10&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=
    Did Acts Misrepresent Theudas and Judas the Galilean?

    Was Judas the Galilean the historical Jesus?

    1. Jesus was born in 8-4 BCE (Matthew) and in 6 CE at the Census of Cyrenius (Luke). Judas was mentioned by Josephus in 4 BCE, relating to the Golden Eagle Temple Cleansing (Ant. 17.149-167) and in 6 CE, regarding the Census of Cyrenius (Ant. 18.1-10) The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are both inconsistent with the reign of Pilate and the ministry of John the Baptist. For example, if Jesus were born in 4 BCE and died thirty-three years later, then he would have died around 30 CE, during the reign of Pilate but five years before John the Baptist’s death. (Ant. 18.116-119) If Jesus were born in 6 CE and died thirty-three years later, then he would have died in 39 CE, a few years after John the Baptist but two years after Pilate left Judea. Both accounts appear historically flawed. These two birth narratives were strategically placed in an era when Judas the Galilean’s ministry flourished. This deception moved the adult Jesus thirty years away from Judas the Galilean, thus hiding the Messiah’s true identity. This misdirection by the Gospel writers has worked brilliantly. Very few scholars have even considered Jesus outside of the 30 CE timeframe. This is even more disturbing considering Jesus’ brother, James, was purported to be ninety-six years old in 62 CE. Even if this slightly exaggerates his age by ten years, James’ birth date can be estimated at approximately 35-25 BCE. Jesus was the older brother and could not have been born any later than 25 BCE.

    It should be asked: why would Matthew and Luke pick different dates for the Messiah’s birth? If one solid date existed, then both Gospel writers should have easily followed that lone date. However, if the writers were trying to present an alternate date, then it might have been possible for each to tie his birth date to a different event. Matthew tied his birth date to the Golden Eagle Temple Cleansing while Luke used the Census of Cyrenius, the two major events in Judas the Galilean’s career.

    2. This second coincidence relates to Matthew’s Star of Bethlehem story which was placed in 4 BCE (See number 1). In the Gospel of Matthew, the magi were drawn to Jerusalem by a star, near the end of Herod the Great’s reign, around 4 BCE. These Magi found the baby Jesus but did not return to Herod to report the findings. Herod was incensed and ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem, two years old and younger.

    In the Slavonic Josephus, Persian astrologers went to Herod the Great identifying the star in the sky and explaining its significance. Herod insisted they return to him after finding the infant. However, the astrologers were warned by the stars to avoid Herod on the return trip. In his rage, Herod wanted to kill all the male children throughout his kingdom. His advisors convinced him that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, hoping to confine the slaughter to only Bethlehem. This Star of Bethlehem passage was inserted in the War during the early years of Herod, between 27-22 BCE. (1)

    This Slavonic Josephus passage originated from the same source which supplied the Gospel version. The Slavonic text has some interesting details which are missing from Matthew. Matthew wrote that the chief priests and teachers of the law informed Herod that the infant would be born in Bethlehem. He then sent the Magi to Bethlehem and ordered them to return when they had located the infant. (Matt. 2:3-8) This version does not give Herod much credit, for if he really knew that a king would be born in Bethlehem, he would have had every child slaughtered in Bethlehem before the Magi could even reach the place. On the other hand, the Slavonic version had Herod learning about the location after waiting for the Persian astrologers to return. This blunder on Herod’s part wasted precious time, allowing the infant’s parents to escape. Herod’s advisors also told Herod the meaning of the Star. This star was the promised Star Prophecy, which told of a leader coming from Judah. (Numbers 24:17) The same sentiment was included in Matthew 2:6, but this quote from Micah 5:2 promised that a ruler would come from Bethlehem. All in all, the two versions have much in common and vary very little, the difference being the time: 25 BCE versus 4 BCE.

    If Jesus were born in 25 BCE, then he would have been 30 years old at the time of the census (6 CE). This was the exact time when John baptized in the Jordan and proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. (2) This date was also marked by the nationwide tax revolt led by Judas the Galilean, the historical Jesus. (Ant. 18.4)

    3. The genealogy of Jesus can also be compared to information known about Judas the Galilean. In Matthew 1:15 and Luke 3:24, a Mattan and Matthat are listed as great grandfathers. Since the Gospels added a few generations to distance Jesus from Judas, these great grandfathers may have been Jesus’ father. Judas’s father may have been Matthias, a name closely resembling Mattan and Matthat.

    On Mary’s side, a similarity exists concerning the town of Sepphoris. In Christian tradition, Mary’s family came from Sepphoris. Judas was also linked to Sepphoris by Josephus. It was written that Judas was the son of Sepphoris, or rather from Sepphoris, and he also raided the armory at Sepphoris. Certainly, Judas was well acquainted with this town.

    4. Herod the Great planned to execute Judas after the Golden Eagle Temple Cleansing. Luckily for Judas, Herod ordered to have his prisoners put to death after his own death, in order to create great sorrow in Israel. After Herod’s death, his advisors reneged on the insane plan. (Ant. 17.149-167) According to the Gospels, Herod the Great tried to kill the baby Jesus. (Matt. 2) Herod’s goal of eliminating Jesus ended with his own death. In both stories, an elderly paranoid Herod tried to destroy elements he perceived as being a threat to his rule. Of course, the infant narrative was not actual history but rather a replay of Moses’ infancy.

    5. Joseph returned to Israel after the death of Herod the Great but was afraid to settle in Judea because of Archelaus. Having been warned in a dream, Joseph moved his family to Nazareth, in Galilee. (Matt. 2:19-23) The New Testament often moved characters by using dreams, miracles or visions. For example, Philip was whisked away after baptizing the eunuch in Acts 8:39-40. Peter’s visit to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea was preceded by a vision in Acts chapter 10. And the Magi did not return to King Herod because they were warned in a dream. (Matt. 2:12) All three of these examples have alternative explanations. Philip and the eunuch as well as Peter and Cornelius were patterned after the account of King Izates given by Josephus. (Ant. 20.34-48) And as noted in number 2, the Slavonic Josephus explained the Persian astrologers’ decision to avoid Herod differently. Either the Star of Bethlehem convinced them not to return to Herod or they had talked to the locals about the King and decided to go home by another route. The point is this: when trying to reconstruct historical events, it may be wise to discount the passages which depend upon a literary devise such as a dream or vision.

    After being released by Archelaus, Judas went to Sepphoris in Galilee, where he led an uprising against the son of Herod. (War 2.56) Sepphoris was in the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, not under the control of Archelaus. Since Archelaus was waging war upon the followers of Judas and Matthias, the move to Galilee was prudent in that it allowed reorganization without fear of being attacked by Archelaus. The events in Josephus and the New Testament both occurred because Herod the Great had died and the country was in unrest.

    Was Judas the Galilean the historical Jesus?

    6. The Gospels do not mention the early life of Jesus, except when he taught at the Temple at the age of twelve. (Luke 2:41-52) Otherwise, no information was given from 6 CE (Census of Cyrenius) to 26 CE (supposed date of Pilate – see chapter 1). This lack of information mirrors Josephus’ War where nothing was written from 6 CE (Census) to 26 CE (Pilate). (War 2.167-169) Josephus barely expanded on this paucity of information in Antiquities, where he listed the Roman procurators during this twenty year stretch, but little else. (Ant. 18.26-35) It is possible that these missing years from Josephus could have been the result of pious editing. The actual crucifixion of Judas the Galilean may have been deleted. Note that Josephus detailed the deaths of Judas’ three sons, James, Simon, and Menahem and his grandson, Eleazar. With each of these occasions, Josephus referred back to Judas the Galilean. It is hard to believe that Josephus omitted the circumstances behind the death of Judas. So it is very possible that the writings of Josephus were edited to remove some interesting details of Judas’ life and his eventual crucifixion.

    7. When he was only twelve, Jesus spent three days at the Temple. He was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:41-52) Judas taught young men at the same Temple. Judas was “the most celebrated interpreters of the Jewish laws and … well beloved by the people, because of [the] education of their youth.” (Ant. 17.149 – 4 BCE) How many other men also taught at the Temple? Is it possible that Judas’ early career as teacher at the Temple was made legend by placing his wisdom and knowledge within the body of a twelve year old? Consider this: if Judas had been born around 25 BCE (see number 2), then he would have been just twenty years old at the time of the Golden Eagle Temple Cleansing (4 BCE). His status as one of the finest teachers of the law, at such a young age, must have been legendary. This child prodigy legacy was woven into the Gospel fabric by Luke in his story of the twelve year old Jesus.

    8. The story of John the Baptist may very well be the most important link between Judas the Galilean and Jesus. In the Gospels, John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world in 28-29 CE, per the dating of Luke. (Luke 3:1-3) In fact, this is the reason why scholars look nowhere else for Jesus. It is just a given that Jesus’ ministry began around 30 CE.

    According to the Slavonic Josephus, this same John came baptizing in the Jordan in 6 CE, right before the mention of Judas the Galilean and during the reign of Archelaus (4 BCE- 7 CE). (1) In addition, the Psuedoclementine Recognitions acknowledged John right before describing the various Jewish sects. (2) Josephus described these same sects right after his introduction of Judas the Galilean. (Ant. 18.4-22 and War 2.118-166) So the 6 CE timeframe for John the Baptist is attested to by more than one source.

    Could this John the Baptist have been baptizing and proclaiming different Messiahs in both 6 CE and 29 CE? The odds of that would be millions to one. The only logical conclusion is that Jesus and Judas the Galilean were the same person. This explains why the Slavonic Josephus’ version of events has been ignored over the years. If John actually came in 6 CE, then all of New Testament scholarship is, at best, misguided. That would not only make the scholars look foolish but would also prove Pauline Christianity a sham religion.

    9. Both Judas and Jesus had a second-in-command, Sadduc and John the Baptist, respectively. This organizational model was fashioned after the Maccabees. Mattathias led the movement and his son, Judas Maccabee, was his lieutenant. After Mattathias died, Simon took his place and Judas Maccabee was elevated to the leadership role. In the later Fourth Philosophy, Matthias and Judas worked together at the Temple and were responsible for the Golden Eagle Temple Cleansing. After Matthias suffered martyrdom, Judas filled this position with Sadduc. (Ant. 18.4)

    In the Gospel accounts, Jesus picked Simon Peter as his second-in-command. In reality, Jesus was first paired with John the Baptist (Sadduc). When Jesus was crucified, he was replaced by his brother, James the Just. At this stage, John the Baptist and James shared control of the movement. In 35-36 CE, John was beheaded by Herod Antipas. James appointed Cephas (Peter) to be John’s successor. The Gospels successfully minimized the roles of John the Baptist and James. According to these accounts, John died before Jesus, but per Josephus, John died after Jesus. Also, James the Just was barely mentioned by Acts, his leadership role unannounced until Acts chapter 15, at the Council of Jerusalem. By bypassing John the Baptist and James the Just, the Gospels were able to skip a generation, placing Peter (Cephas) as the leading apostle after the death of Jesus.

    The dual leadership may have safeguarded the movement. If one of the leaders was captured or killed, then the other could take control. The movement of Judas the Galilean (Jesus) was different from that of Judas Maccabee in that the later movement believed in the resurrection of its leader. Thus, even though John the Baptist and James led the movement after the death of Jesus, many throughout the movement still awaited the return of Jesus in power and glory. So, in essence, John and James were merely caretakers. This may account for the divisions in the 40 CE church in Corinth. Paul wrote that some disciples followed himself, others followed Cephas (James the Just), others followed Apollos (John the Baptist) (see Acts 18:24-25), and others followed Christ (Judas the Galilean or Jesus). (1 Cor. 1:10-12) This split may have been inevitable since Judas the Galilean’s movement was held together by a common hatred of Rome. Teachers within the movement could have possibly come from both the Pharisees and the Essenes. Differences, in approach to religion, were inevitable.

    10. Jesus and Judas were both called the Galilean. Actually, Jesus was referred to as Jesus of Nazareth, a city located near Sepphoris in Galilee. It should not be missed that Sepphoris was central to Judas the Galilean’s ministry. Placing Nazareth close to Sepphoris may have been more than just coincidence. In War 1.648, Judas was said to be the son of Sepphoris. This more likely was his place of birth as opposed to his father. And in War 2.56, Judas retreated to Sepphoris after being harassed by Archelaus. There, Judas armed his disciples with weapons from the armory. Judas’ history with Sepphoris was no doubt changed to Nazareth to hide these embarrassing revelations. After all, both of the above references to Sepphoris were in the context of armed rebellion against Herod the Great and later, Archelaus.

    The name Nazareth is probably a corruption of Nazarite, as no references to Nazareth appear in the Old Testament or in Josephus. (A Nazarite was consecrated to God by a vow and included such notables as John the Baptist and Samson). In fact, John Crossan stated that in addition to Josephus’ silence concerning Nazareth, “it is never mentioned by any of the Jewish rabbis whose pronouncements are in the Mishnah or whose discussions are in the Talmud.” (3) Jesus’ disciples were called Galileans (Mark 14:70) and it may have been a sleight-of-hand which changed Jesus the Galilean to Jesus of Nazareth. In John 7:41, the crowd asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee?” And the leaders had the same reservations about Jesus. “Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (John 7:52)

    Judas the Galilean was mentioned in several passages by Josephus (War 2.118; War 2.433 and Ant. 20.102). Josephus did state that this Judas hailed from Gamala, across the River Jordan (Ant. 18.4), but he was known as the Galilean, as attributed to the above references. Galilee was a hotbed for revolutionaries. Both Jesus and Judas would have had a similar background, influenced by those who had struggled for years against Herod the Great.

    Was Judas the Galilean the Historical Jesus?

    11. The disciples of Jesus and Judas were zealous for the law. (Acts 21:20) (Ant. 17.149-154) It is true that Paul taught his Gentile followers to disregard the law. However, the Jewish Christians, led by James the Just, clearly denounced that teaching and removed Paul and his followers from fellowship. (See Galatians)

    Some forty years after the death of Judas (19 CE), a splinter group of the Fourth Philosophy, known as the Zealots, appeared on the scene. Like their name suggests, these individuals were obsessed with the Law and were comparable to the fanatical followers of James the Just. (Acts 21:20)

    12. Judas and Jesus were both called wise men by Josephus. (Ant. 17.152 and Ant. 18.63) As the Jesus passage was a late third or early fourth century interpolation, the use of the term wise man was taken from the description of Judas and Matthias. It must also be noted that Josephus did not freely use the term wise man. He did, however, use that term when describing himself. If Josephus called himself a wise man then this indeed was a great compliment.

    13. Both teachers assigned a high value to the sharing of wealth or pure communism. (Matt. 6:19-27; Acts 2:42-45; James 5:1-6) (Ant. 18.7; War 2.427) (Essenes – War 2.122) In fact, this was the central message in “Love your Neighbor as Yourself.” How could one love his neighbor if he let that neighbor go hungry or unclothed? When Jesus confronted the rich young ruler, he did not say give ten percent to the poor, but rather, give everything to the poor and then come follow me. (Matt. 19:16-24) This was a radical message two thousand years ago. How many middle-class Americans would follow that same philosophy today?

    Members of the Fourth Philosophy were known as bandits by Josephus, for they exploited the wealthy, a type of Robin Hood movement. During the war with Rome, the debt records were burned in order to free those enslaved to the wealthy by their debt. (War 2.426-427) This was truly class warfare! As for the Zealots, Josephus shared his contempt for their practices concerning wealth and private property: “The dregs, the scum of the whole country, they have squandered their own property and practiced their lunacy upon the towns and villages around, and finally have poured in a stealthy stream into the Holy City….” (War 4.241) Considering what Jesus said to the rich young ruler, Josephus would have had the same attitude towards Jesus’ lunacy!

    At the beginning of the Church, disciples were urged to share everything in common. (Acts 2:42) This approach to living was in line with the Kingdom of God as preached by Jesus. Also, the feeding of the five thousand was simply the sharing of one’s food with another. It had nothing to do with hocus-pocus. In addition, the letter of James favored the poor over the rich. (James 5:1-6)

    14. Both Judas and Jesus were considered fine teachers of the Law. (Matt. 5:17-20; Mark 12:28-34) (Ant. 17.149; War 1.648) Judas followed the basic teachings of the Pharisees as did Jesus. As for Judas’ abilities, Josephus wrote: “[Judas and Matthias were] the most celebrated interpreters of the Jewish laws, and well beloved by the people.” (Ant. 17.149) The earlier assessment from War 1.648 stated that “there were two men of learning in the city [Jerusalem], who were thought the most skillful in the laws of their country, and were on that account held in very great esteem all over the nation.”

    From the Gospels, we know that Jesus used parables in relating his message, in line with Pharisaic practices. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love thy neighbor. To love God involved obeying God and the Law handed down by God to Moses. To love thy neighbor included sharing one’s possessions, so that no one was left hungry or homeless. In addition, both Judas and Jesus followed Judas Maccabee in his interpretation of the Sabbath: the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Judas Maccabee permitted his disciples to defend themselves if attacked on the Sabbath. Likewise, Jesus preached that it was proper to do good on the Sabbath. In fact, Jesus was reprimanded by some Pharisees for breaking the Sabbath laws as he fled from Herod. Jesus quoted the Old Testament story of David eating consecrated bread in order to maintain strength in his flight from the authorities. Jesus had good reason to follow David and Judas Maccabee: he was a marked man. Both Jesus and Judas Maccabee would not have flouted the Sabbath law for any old reason.

    From the above passages from Josephus, Judas the Galilean was known throughout the nation for his ability in interpreting the law. We get the same feeling for Jesus when reading the Gospels. The Pharisees constantly invited him to dinner in order to discuss issues. We are privy to only the negative aspects of those meetings. In reality, most teachers in Israel considered Jesus an important figure and were constantly amazed at his teachings.

    15. Judas the Galilean’s movement centered in Jerusalem and in Galilee. Judas began his public career in Jerusalem, teaching young men at the Temple. He convinced his students to take part in the Golden Eagle Temple Cleansing and was arrested by Herod the Great. (Ant. 17.149-167) Judas was later released by Archelaus and fled to Sepphoris in Galilee. Until his return to Jerusalem, Judas preached in Galilee where he was crowned Messiah by his followers, and later led a tax revolt against Rome. (Ant. 17.271-272 and 18.1-10)

    Jesus was also in Jerusalem at the start of his career, according to John. Coincidentally, John placed his Temple Cleansing at the start of Jesus’ career, consistent with the story of Judas the Galilean. (John 2:12-17) Jesus then returned to Galilee, where he was proclaimed Messiah. From the Gospel accounts, Jesus spent most of his ministry in Galilee. Jesus finally returned to Jerusalem, where he was captured and crucified.

    Even after Judas’ death, his movement revolved around Jerusalem and Galilee. In fact, Josephus noted that Eleazar was sent by his leaders in Galilee to teach King Izates true Judaism, which included circumcision. King Izates had previously been taught by Ananias that he could become a full Jew without circumcision. The Jewish Christian model also practiced circumcision. Note that Paul and Cephas also had a similar disagreement in Antioch, caused by men sent from James. James may have been centered in either Jerusalem or in Galilee. However, since this occurred around the time of Agrippa’s assassination, James probably located himself in a safer place, no doubt, Galilee.

  5. Lawrence says

    Reply to Paul (1. above): Thank you for your reflections, Paul. It is my understanding that first-century Jewish messianic hope looked for one who would shatter the Roman yoke by his military might, then set up his messianic kingdom over all the earth. Jesus’s parables of the kingdom presented a very different picture (God';s rule can be resisted, spreads quietly like leaven in bread, etc.), which seems to line up with the re-thinking of the kingdom that Crossan imagines. As I understand your view, it suggests a major shift in Jewish messianic thought. I suppose such a huge shift would need to be documented in first-century Palestinian Jewish writings. Of course, this discussion is afield from the article.

  6. Lawrence says

    Reply to Wardell (2. above): I stand by my article.

  7. Lawrence says

    Reply to Bob (3. above): The interpretation you refer to would certainly make sense, if the writer had in mind some clear link between Jesus and political power. Given that the writer would not have recognized Davidic ancestry as pertaining to Jesus, then what would Jesus’ political connections have been? I am open to suggestions. Perhaps the meaning of “close to the kingdom” with reference to Yeshu ha-Nosri might be perennially debated.

  8. JerryH. says

    What an excellent article! Here’s hoping you will now write that article on the other 49 historical New Testament figures. And then hopefully BAR will give you permission to publish a book that contains all three articles, with footnotes, figures, charts, etc.

  9. jhon says

    Reply to Lawrece,

    The simple understanding of the Talmudic passage is that Jesus had connections to the Roman government, and was therefore treated differently.

    I did enjoy both of your articles greatly, wonderful scholarship.

  10. Eugene says

    What about the argument of there being no contemporaneous evidence for Jesus’ existence? Josephus and Tacitus are not contemporaneous.

  11. jhon says

    See also Rashi (Sanhedrin 43a incipit יהרוג) who explains ‘close to the kingdom’ as referring to foreign government.

  12. Lawrence says

    Reply to Ilan (4. above): I stand by the view taken in endnote 3 of my article, in agreement with New Testament scholars Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz (who have the support of many other Biblical scholars, as well), that In the last analysis, all evidence from all sources must be considered, and that both Biblical and non-Biblical sources “are in principle of equal value in the study of Jesus” (Theissen and Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998], p. 23). This is a scholarly approach that attempts to honor objectivity. It does not privilege religious writings.
    Daniel Unterbrink, however, does not give equal value to Biblical and non-Biblical sources. He privileges non-Biblical sources over Biblical sources and employs the non-Biblical with the intent to destroy the Biblical.
    As I have stated in endnote 3 above, “Christian sources found in the New Testament and outside of it have great value as historical evidence and are not to be discounted or dismissed.” Unterbrink does his best to discount them, with precisely the results that he intends. These results are unfortunate in terms of historical accuracy.
    As a rule of thumb, when independent sources agree, that agreement strengthens the case for the historical reliability of the points on which they agree. Above, my article points out (in boldface font) nine points on which Josephus and the Gospels, Tacitus and the Gospels, or all three of these independent sources agree:
    1. Jesus of Nazareth, who is called Christ, existed as a real man.
    2. His personal name was Jesus.
    3. He was called Christos (Christ) in Greek, which is a translation of Messiah in Hebrew–“(the) anointed one.”
    4. He had a brother named James (Jacob).
    5. He won over both Jews and “Greeks” (i.e., Gentiles of Hellenistic culture).
    6. Jewish leaders of the day expressed unfavorable opinions about him.
    7. Pilate rendered the decision that he should be executed.
    8. His execution was specifically by crucifixion.
    9. He was executed during Pontius Pilate’s governorship over Judea (26–36 C.E.), during Tiberius’s reign.
    Lawrence Mykytiuk
    Purdue University

  13. Lawrence says

    Reply to Jerry H. (8. above): Thank you, Jerry, for your kind remarks. If I knew for certain that there were “only” 49 other figures in the New Testament that can be documented in sources that are independent of the New Testament, it would be a relief to know that there are not more.

    As for such a book project, it would be a major undertaking. I would surely need to “keep looking up.” Thank you for suggesting it so warmly.
    I cannot say enough good about everyone at BAR. They provide excellent editing, great visuals, excellent web support, and timely communication! Thank you Hershel, thank you Robin, Bonnie, Noah, and all of you, past and present!

  14. Paul says

    Despite what the writer of this article claims, there were at least 40 recognized writers of the time who do not mention this particular Jesus at all. Jesus or Joshua was a common name then, and even Josephus mentions at least six or eight of them.

    The writings of authors like Josephus and the others that the writer refers to, have either been corrupted, interpolated or misinterpreted. The apologists keep refering to these writings (a line, a name or a few sentences) again and again though proven as forgery by historians and scholars.

    Even Apostle Paul does not mention anything of Jesus’ human life, his ministry, his virgin birth, his miracles, his parables, his sermons, his trial and so on. He only realization of Christ was through his visions. And if his generally accepted chronology is to be believed, Paul must have been born and lived during Jesus’ time, and martyred in 66/68 A.D. His Epistles are the first Gnostic Christian writings.

    There is a lot of misconception among the Church Fathers…. St. Irenaeus (circa 130-200) stated Jesus lived to be an old man; nowwhere it’s mentioned he was crucified except in the New Testament romances which even the Church is now reluctant to admit as not being historical, though she continues to abide by them for the sake of its followers as Acts of faith.

  15. Lawrence says

    Reply to Bob (9. above): Yes, political power would clearly involve Roman authority in some way. I have no idea of how the Talmudic debaters and commentators might have conceived of such a connection between Jesus and Rome—or how they would have explained his crucifixion on a Roman cross.
    It is true that Jesus advised people to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s,” meaning to pay taxes, but I find not a whisper of any attempt by Jesus in the Gospels to gain or wield political power. In fact in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, he refused to be made a king, and on trial before Pilate, he stated that his kingdom was not of this world. But again, I am open to hear whatever evidence, either real or imagined by his enemies, might support such a political connection.

  16. Lawrence says

    Another reply to Bob (11. above): Thank you for the Rashi reference and for your very kind remarks. As I mentioned in endnote 1 above, second paragraph, “this article treats an area that has already been thoroughly researched, so I have gleaned material from the best results previously obtained”—by others, from whom I borrowed, and whose works I have gratefully cited.

  17. Lawrence says

    Reply to Eugene (10. above): First, it should be noted that some historians use “contemporaneous” in a broader sense of having lived at about the same time, even if the lifetimes of two people did not quite overlap. In that sense, Josephus was certainly Jesus’ contemporary and his fellow Palestinian Jew.

    But strictly speaking, you are correct that Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.) was not contemporaneous with Jesus in the sense that their lifetimes overlapped, since he was born about 25 years after Jesus was crucified. Even then, they were quite close in time.

    Regarding the proximity of their two lifetimes, the article makes a case, following Van Voorst’s research, that Tacitus belonged to the board of Roman priests who regulated foreign religions in Rome, therefore they needed accurate information about such religions. By his membership on this board and/or by other means, he had access to some accurate information about so-called “Chrestians,” whether it was passed along by word of mouth from older priests or written down and kept in an archive or library. Thus he knew and the proper spelling in referring to their founder as Christus, as well as the time and manner of his death, who sentenced him to be executed, and the place where this religion began. It is not as if Tacitus lived centuries after Jesus. His lifetime overlapped with the lives of several of the twelve apostles.

    Secondly, Josephus (37–c. 100 C.E.), also was not, strictly speaking, contemporaneous with Jesus, since he was born about 7 or 8 years after Jesus was crucified. But certainly his own parents were contemporaries of Jesus. His father, a priest and almost certainly a Pharisee, as Josephus was, could easily have known people who had seen and heard Jesus. Growing up in first-century Palestine, Josephus could not have avoided hearing about Jesus, and by all means, he was a contemporary of the apostles.

    The writings of Josephus, Tacitus, and the New Testament are strikingly close in time to the lifetime of Jesus. They were not so distant as to be isolated from accurate information about him, but rather, both Josephus and Tacitus had access to information about Jesus which is demonstrably correct. We are assured by the fact that the three independent sources, namely Josephus, Tacitus, and the New Testament overlap of nine key points about Jesus, his life, and his death, as listed in the article and in my reply to Ilan in comment 12 above.

  18. Erik says

    This is more a question, than anything else.

    Christos means anointed – At that time were kings, high priests and judges all anointed –

    I couldn’t find anything about the the chronology re. the term “christian”. – But I know following re “christian”:

    The movement “Christians” were, by Christ Jesus followers, called “The Way”, Christ Jesus himself, was called the Nazarene, and his followers the Nazarites –

    The first time the term Christian was mentioned was in Antioch during Paul’s visits, the term “christian” was clearly used as a epithets –

    Which is to say that if Josephus’ story “shall hold the water”, should this invective “christian”, been widespread over the next 40 years, from Antioch to Rome, from mid of AD40th, and into the fifth chapt. of the “the Jews war”, which were written approx. in AD80th..

    Josephus mentions two brothers named “Jesus and Jacob”. Jesus is one of the most common names of the time, because Josephus mentions about 20 Jesus’ – And we meetings one of them, in the same chapter five = Jesus, son of Damneus who was anointed [= Chrestos], as high priest.

    I have read, that perhaps the most important aspect re. the term “christian” is, that Josephus normally always explains his Roman readers the meanings when he introduces unfamiliar terms, also when he repeats.
    But here there is no explanations of what a “chrestos” are?

  19. Lawrence says

    Correction of the last sentence of my reply (16. above) to Eugene: There are nine points on which either Josephus and the Gospels, or Tacitus and the Gospels, or all three of these independent sources agree, as listed in the article and in my reply to Ilan in comment 12 above.

  20. DavicC says

    So, did ALL the apostles and thousands of first century Christians die for some LIE ? I can’t imagine that any reasonable person would believe that. What is the other possibility?

  21. DavicC says

    “5. He won over both Jews and “Greeks” (i.e., Gentiles of Hellenistic culture), according to Josephus, although it is anachronistic to say that they were “many” at the end of his life. Large growth
    in the number of Jesus’ actual followers came only after his death.”

    Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:6 “After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” The way Paul writes this seems to suggest that disbelievers should go and check it out because many of those followers were still alive. Would this 500 be considered MANY followers?

  22. Lawrence says

    Reply to David C. (20. and 21. above):
    (On comment 20. above): The apostles and first-century did not die for a lie. Nevertheless, not all reasonable people begin with the same assumptions, awareness of evidence, cultural lenses, socially conditioned preferences, and personal inclinations that 21st-century North American Christians begin with. As a result, these reasonable people do not reason in the same way that such Christians do, nor do they reach the same conclusions. One benefit for such Christians in relating to these reasonable people is that they can help Christians think more clearly, more sensitively, and in a more refined way about various faiths, including Christianity.
    (On comment 21. above): 1 Corinthians 15:6 refers to one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, whereas the article refers to the number of followers of Jesus before his death. My intent was to observe that that number of “Greeks” (i.e., Gentiles of Hellenistic culture), was quite small before his death, but I did not make that clear in the article.

  23. DavicC says

    “One benefit for such Christians in relating to these reasonable people is that they can help Christians think more clearly, more sensitively, and in a more refined way about various faiths, including Christianity.”
    This is not a matter of helping “Christians think more clearly, more sensitively, and in a more refined way about various faiths….” No matter from which faith one comes, the overwhelming evidence is that thousands of people both Jew and Gentile believers died in the very early years after Jesus’ death BECAUSE they believed Jesus was a real person. THAT is a powerful witness that Jesus did live! Even if no historian wrote about Jesus* – Any thinking man would have to ask the question, “would that many people die for a lie?” And as you have said, the answer is a resounding NO. (* much like the lack of writing about King David)

  24. Lawrence says

    Reply to Paul (14. above): Regarding the claim that
    “Despite what the writer of this article claims, there were at least 40 recognized writers of the time who do not mention this particular Jesus at all. Jesus or Joshua was a common name then, and even Josephus mentions at least six or eight of them.”
    It is not at all necessary that other recognized writers of the time mention Jesus in order to verify what both Josephus and Tacitus wrote. They were recognized historians, too, and they did their homework. This argument has no weight.

    As for the fact that Jesus’ name was very common, perhaps you missed the part of the above article in which I stated, “James’s brother Jesus (Yehoshua) also had a very common name. Josephus mentions at least 12 other men named Jesus.” And the attached endnote 14 states,”Winter asserts that Josephus mentions about twelve others named Jesus. Feldman puts that number at 21.” That endnote cites Winter’s and Feldman’s published works. As the article points out, the fact that the names James (Jacob), Jesus, and Joseph were common was precisely the reason why Josephus specified that this was “Jesus who is called Christ.”

    I will reply to the rest of Paul’s comment (14. above) in another comment later today or tomorrow.

  25. Lawrence says

    Reply to Paul (14. above), continued:
    Again, regarding the claim that
    “Despite what the writer of this article claims, there were at least 40 recognized writers of the time who do not mention this particular Jesus at all.”

    This argument ignores the fact that besides Tacitus and Josephus, several writers of the classical period mention Jesus. These other writers are mentioned in the latter part of the article and in endnotes 39 through 43. Tacitus and Josephus are emphasized in the article, because they are clearly independent of the New Testament and because they provide the strongest evidence.
    On the other hand, it would have been strange indeed if 40 of the writers of the time had mentioned Jesus. In fact, it would have aroused my suspicion. As the article’s endnote 6 points out:

    “The following two observations made by F. F. Bruce are relevant to works by Tacitus and by several other classical writers who mention Jesus:

    “1. Surprisingly few classical writings, comparatively speaking, survive from the period of about the first 50 years of the Christian church (c. 29 to 80 C.E.). (Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins, p. 17.)
    “2. Roman civilization paid almost no attention to obscure religious leaders in faraway places, such as Jesus in Judea—just as today’s Western nations pay almost no attention to religious leaders in remote parts of the world, unless the national interest is involved. Rome became concerned only when Christians grew numerous. (Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins, pp. 17–18. For thorough discussion, see Van Voorst, Jesus Outside, pp. 68–71.)”

  26. Lawrence says

    Reply to Paul (14. above), continued:
    Regarding the claim that “The writings of authors like Josephus and the others that the writer refers to, have either been corrupted, interpolated or misinterpreted.”

    This is a very sweeping claim. It refers to the writings of not just one or a few, but of all—Tacitus _and_ Lucian of Samosata _and_ rabbinic scholars referring to Jesus _and_ Celsus _and_ Pliny _and_ Suetonius, _and_ Mara bar Serapion. In what particular way(s) have each one, as claimed, been corrupted, or interpolated, or misinterpreted? In each case, how can the corrupted text or the interpolation be discerned? In each case, how can the correct interpretation and a misinterpretation be known? What support for this sweeping, all-inclusive claim is there in scholarly publications? The article and its endnotes present and examine evidence. This objection does not.

    Regarding the claim that “The apologists keep refering to these writings (a line, a name or a few sentences) again and again though proven as forgery by historians and scholars”
    Again, this claim is made without naming or examining any evidence, without giving specific argumentation, and without indicating any scholarly works to support it. Has any historian or scholar not just suggested or raised doubt, but actually _proven_ that all references to Jesus as a real human being in history are forgeries? Is the majority of scholars, where referred to in the article, so badly mistaken?

  27. Lawrence says

    Reply to Paul (14. above), continued:
    Regarding Josephus, the article frankly points out the variations in the Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Syriac texts of the Testimonium Flavianum that indicate how copyists and/or translators did change the text. But on the other hand, the article’s examination of the way each one renders the Testimonium reveals a certain stability in the various versions of it (see Alternative 3 in the article and see endnote 30). The evidence in these versions does not support a wholesale insertion of a forged passage, but rather, taken together, these versions point to an original text that did mention Jesus as a real human being. The article is an honest attempt to get at the truth and to avoid making unsubstantiated claims.
    It is important to realize that Josephus’ other, later reference to “Jesus who is called Christ,” in order to identify his executed brother James, is accepted by a huge majority of scholars as authentically from Josephus and as strong evidence of Jesus’ real existence as a human being.

  28. Paul says

    This is one of those moments when Mr. Spock is on the bridge of the Enterprise, looks into his view-finder and says, “fascinating.” Interesting that commentator Paul #14 brought up the subject of the apostle Paul being a Gnostic though I agree with Lawrence’s reliance on the historical accounts which allows me to see how far the authors of the Gospels went to conform to the written records (thanks also to commentator Ilan #4). The Old Testament also borrowed from existing texts, a classic example being the story of Moses in the ark of bulrushes like King Sargon of Agade. The Gospel of John is thought to be a work that was influenced by a type of gnosticism that existed at a particular period in the late 1st century but was not continued until the mid-2nd century when Christian-Gnostic books flourish, no doubt a reaction to Roman persecution. During this century Jewish mystical beliefs appear in writings such as Bereshith Rabba 82:6, where the Old Testament patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, constitute the divine Chariot like that of Ezekiel’s vision. This was in reference to the verse, “God ascended from him (Jacob) at the place where He had spoken with him” (Genesis 35:13). “From here we learn that he became a holy chariot” (“The Zohar” by Daniel Matt, vol.3, p.49). Jacob’s Ladder is also referred to in John 1:51, after Jesus is affiliated with John the Baptist and the Essene traditions and perhaps had access to such works as the portion of Qumran Scroll 4Q286-287 on the Chariots of Glory. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Gershom Scholem wrote in “Major Trends In Jewish Mysticism” about the tradition of the Ma’asah Merkavah, or “Workings of the Chariot,” that appear in the apocryphal writings of the 2nd century B.C.E. to the 1st century C.E., and later the Mishnah (p.43):
    “Although an immense literature has grown up on the subject of these apocrypha, the truth is that no one knows for certain to what extent they reflect views shared by Mishnaic authorities. Be that as it may – and even granted that it may be possible to trace the influence of Essenes in some of these writings – one fact remains certain: the main subjects of the later Merkabah mysticism already occupy a central position in the oldest esoteric literature, best represented by the Book of Enoch.”
    In response to commentator Bob #3,9,11; The Talmud’s reference to Yeshru ha-Nosri as being “close to the kingdom” likely does affiliate Jesus with the Roman establishment, if only a noble ambassador like the Centurion who knew his place in the chain of command; “For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me” (Matthew 8:5). It is in this context that Jesus speaks of the messianic banquet with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (8:11).

  29. Helen says

    Thank you, Lawrence, for a well-presented article. Your documentation points to a through process of research and reflection upon that material. Your writing style is such that both a novice and a long time student can benefit from your hard work.

    Articles like this one is one of the reasons I tighten my budget elsewhere so I can keep my BAR subscription going. Todah rabah!

  30. Lawrence says

    Reply to Helen (28. above): Todah! Todah!

  31. Kurt says

    Do Scholars Believe That Jesus Existed?
    Scholars have a solid basis for believing that Jesus existed. Regarding the references made by first- and second-century historians to Jesus and the early Christians, the Encyclopædia Britannica, 2002 Edition, says: “These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.”

    In 2006, the book Jesus and Archaeology said: “No reputable scholar today questions that a Jew named Jesus son of Joseph lived; most readily admit that we now know a considerable amount about his actions and his basic teachings.”

    The Bible portrays Jesus as a real person. It provides the names of his ancestors and immediate family. (Matthew 1:1; 13:55) It also gives the names of prominent rulers who were contemporaries of Jesus. (Luke 3:1, 2) Those details allow researchers to verify the accuracy of the Bible accounts.

    Jesus—What People Say About Him

    “Jesus of Nazareth . . . is easily the dominant figure in history.”—H. G. Wells, English historian.

    “Christ stands . . . solitary and alone among all the heroes of history.”—Philip Schaff, Swiss-born theologian and historian.

    WHO qualifies to be called the greatest man who ever lived? How should a man’s greatness be measured? By his military genius? His physical strength? His mental prowess? Or should it be measured by the extent that his words and deeds affect people and by the example he sets for them?
    Note what historians, scientists, scholars, writers, political leaders, and others—past and present—have said about the man from Nazareth, Jesus Christ:

    “It would require much exotic calculation, however, to deny that the single most powerful figure—not merely in these two millenniums but in all human history—has been Jesus of Nazareth.”—Reynolds Price, American writer and Bible scholar.

    “A man who was completely innocent offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”—Mohandas K. Gandhi, political and spiritual leader of India.

    “As a child, I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”—Albert Einstein, German-born scientist.

    “Jesus Christ, to me, is the outstanding personality of all time, all history, both as Son of God and as Son of Man. Everything He ever said or did has value for us today, and that is something you can say of no other man, alive or dead.”—Sholem Asch, Polish-born essayist as quoted in Christian Herald; italics theirs.

    “For thirty five years of my life I was, in the proper acceptation of the word, nihilist, a man who believed in nothing. Five years ago my faith came to me. I believed in the doctrine of Jesus Christ and my whole life underwent a sudden transformation.”—Count Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist and philosopher.

    “[Jesus’] life is the most influential ever lived on this planet and its effect continues to mount.”—Kenneth Scott Latourette, American historian and author.

    “Shall we suppose the evangelic history a mere fiction? Indeed, my friend, it bears not the marks of fiction. On the contrary, the history of Socrates, which nobody presumes to doubt, is not so well attested as that of Jesus Christ.”—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, French philosopher.

    Clearly, if anyone deserves to be our model in life, it is Jesus Christ. Paul, a learned man of the first century chosen by Jesus to be His follower and to speak about Him to the nations, urges us to “look intently” at Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2; Acts 9:3)
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200273113

  32. Richard says

    The sources cited do not, of course, “prove” the existence of the historical personage we call Jesus, but they do argue that it makes more sense to believe he existed than that he didn’t. One theory goes that if the world was created — and you within it — this morning when you awoke, then the Creator created all those books and archaeological artifacts just as we find them so that we would believe they represent an objective and invariable reality. Maybe the world was actually created last year, with the same caveats. Maybe it was created in 4004 B.C., with the same caveats, etc. The point is, a Creator powerful enough to create the universe at all would surely not be daunted by the prospect of planting some evidence to lead us to conclude one thing or the other, consistent with the Creator’s divine intention. Critics of the reality and factual existence of Jesus can either except certain things on faith, like Schrodinger’s famous boxed cat, or they can believe they are creating the world anew with every new instant of time, and the universe ends at the tips of their noses. The preponderance of evidence, combined with common sense and any amount of analysis you care to undertake, must lead the rational mind to believe that Jesus was at least as real as George Washington, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, or any other great historical person you’ve ever read about, but who you never saw with your own eyes.

  33. GENE says

    In a discussion earlier this year on this same subject, I commented on some simple arguments that impressed me very much. John Stuart Mill, noted 19th century English economist and philosopher observed, “Who among His followers, or among their proselytes, was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or imagining the life and character revealed in the Gospels? Certainly not the fisherman of Galilee.”
    American Theodore Parker: said, “Shall we be told such a man never lived, the whole story is a lie? Suppose that Plato and Newton never lived. But who did their works, and thought their thoughts. It takes a Newton to forge a Newton. What man could have fabricated a Jesus? None but a Jesus.

  34. GENE says

    Lawrence, I believe you also made note in your comments on your O.T. article about a British scholar confronting her students or associates about a challenge they made about the existence of Jesus. She commented in a similar vein as the two quotes I made above. Thank you for your very convincing article.

  35. Michael says

    Larry, once again, a home run. Thanks much.

  36. Rob says

    If a man named Christ existed mainly as a marketing concept then his heirs, assigns and descendants (as defined by the late writer Laurence Gardner in Bloodlines of the Holy Grail) deserve a large stipend from the religious organizations which have profitted from using his name. Only fair.

  37. Peter says

    An excellent article and I think Jesus DID exist. However in regard to the evidence from Tacitus he a) does not actually name Jesus b) the term Chrestus = anointed. So other candidates could be this person – I think of Herod or another unrecorded messiah whose followers took his name for example. I find the Josephus material provides more evidence although worried a little by the fact Jesus was probably NOT the Jewish messiah in Jospehus’s pantheon.

  38. Bruce says

    To think that Jesus was his birth-name is highly illogical if he was indeed born in a Jewish area of Palestine 2000 years ago. Jesus is clearly a Greek name, neither a Jewish name, nor a Palestinian name. Considering his brother received a typical Hebrew name of Jacob, I find it ridiculous that Jesus was his given name at birth.

    Matthew 1:23 – “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

    Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

    I find it much more likely that his birth name was Immanuel and changed somewhere along the line, which begs the question: What other facts about the man, his teaching and the events surrounding his life were changed? And events, names & places are usually changed by those in power, who wish to remain in power or obtain even more power for ever & ever. Or they are changed by those who also are greedy for power, influence, riches, etc. What better was to do this than to instill belief or assumption among the masses through a new religion, as the ancient proverb states – “Knowledge moves mountains, beliefs make slaves.”

  39. Lawrence says

    Reply to Bruce (38, above):
    I have the impression that you might not have had the opportunity to study the original languages in which the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were written, so my corrections are not intended to be anything more than gentle corrections. Properly speaking, the name Jesus is neither Greek nor Hebrew, but rather the English equivalent of the Latin version of a Greek name which is actually Ἰησοῦς (‘Iesous)—in which the letter I is pronounced as if it were a consonantal English letter y and the letter e represents the Greek letter eta, which is pronounced like the ey in the English exclamation “hey!”
    Further,the name Ἰησοῦς (‘Iesous) is not at all a native Greek name, but a Greek rendition of a Hebrew name given to males. The Greek name Iesous is a close rendition in Greek of the Hebrew name Yeshua’ or Yeshu’. Yeshua’ is also a common noun in Hebrew, meaning “salvation” or “victory.” (There is no such common noun in Greek.) The Greek language has no sh sound, so the simple s sound is the closest one can come in Greek. Also, the final letter s is just a Greek way of ending a man’s name.

    Fortunately, one does not actually have to master the Greek and Hebrew languages to get this information. All that is necessary is to look up “Jesus” in a Bible dictionary or Bible encyclopedia in almost any public or academic library. Even Wikipedia, which is not always a reliable source (and which can completely change an entry overnight), got this one right (for now):

    “The name Jesus is derived from the Latin Iesus, a transliteration of the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iesous). The Greek form is a rendition of the Hebrew ישוע‎ (Yeshua), a variant of the earlier name יהושע‎ (Yehoshua), or Joshua. The name Yeshua appears to have been in use in Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus. The first-century works of historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote in Koine Greek, the same language as that of the New Testament, refer to at least twenty different people with the name Jesus (i.e. Ἰησοῦς). The etymology of Jesus’ name in the context of the New Testament is generally given as ‘Yahweh is salvation.’ ”

    The reason that Josephus mentions at least 12, and up to 21 other men named Yeshua’ in his writings is precisely that it is a man’s name in Hebrew that was used very commonly in first-century Palestine. Thus it is not at all “ridiculous” that Jesus of Nazareth received this name in that place during that time.

    Without establishing in the first place any linguistic basis for denying that Jesus’ name was Hebrew, the speculative question “What other facts about the man, his teaching and the events surrounding his life were changed?” remains mere speculation. It is fine to challenge accepted knowledge if one is willing to do the homework to get one’s facts right (even by simply looking in Wikipedia),

    Regarding the prophesied name Immanuel, it is entirely possible for one person to receive or be known by several names, and this was true in first-century Palestine. Present-day Christians even glory in the many names and titles given to Jesus in Scripture and sing songs that list them. To set up an either-or situation does not suit the culture of Jesus’ day.

    It is also important to distinguish between a truly critical approach that aims to get at the truth by gathering evidence and making careful, sometimes laborious efforts to interpret it correctly–and an approach that is merely skeptical, characterized by profound mistrust and aiming only to prove accepted knowledge to be unknowable or wrong. Easy believism and easy skepticism are both errors to be avoided.

  40. Lawrence says

    A second reply to Bruce (38. above):
    Of course you are right that people crave power, influence, and riches, and this craving produces evil results in many settings and vocations, whether religious or secular. The New Testament is very forthright about this, not least regarding the 12 apostles. whom Jesus very pointedly corrected In Luke 22:24-27, It is easy to understand why, according to John 13:1-17, Jesus assumed the role of the lowliest servant and washed the filth of the street off the feet of the apostles, in order to give dramatic emphasis to his demand that they were to be servants of others.

    In light of Jesus’ instruction and example, it is interesting to trace the ancient traditions regarding the subsequent experiences of the apostles. In the case of the apostle Paul (who does not appear in the four Gospels) it is difficult to argue that he sought worldly power, wealth, or ease in light of 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, in which he speaks “as a fool” by mentioning how often he was in prison , severely flogged, exposed to death, subjected to 40 lashes minus one, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, without sleep, hungry, thirsty, cold, without adequate clothing, etc. According to Christian tradition, with some support from the writings of Irenaeus, Paul was ultimately beheaded c. 67 C.E. by the authority of Rome. To suggest that the New Testament was falsified through human greed in the case of Paul, who wrote many of its letters (epistles) not only fails to square with the evidence, but is to slander him.

  41. Lawrence says

    Reply to Peter (37. above):
    Thank you for your thoughtful reply, which helps me think through the evidence yet again.

    Josephus, being a first-century Palestinian Jew before he took up residence in Rome, almost certainly looked for a messiah who would be a Divinely appointed and empowered military leader who would cast off the Roman yoke, set up his throne in Jerusalem, and exercise his rule over all the world. But to most Jews of the day, probably including Josephus, Jesus appeared to have succumbed to the overwhelming might of Rome when he died in disgrace on a Roman cross. To the popular mind, that was scandalous, to say the least. (As a technical detail: Josephus, being monotheistic, had no pantheon.) In the Hellenistic world, the Christian view of Jesus’ execution as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world was strictly for utter fools.
    “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumblingblock to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)

    I can appreciate the questions you raise about the exclusiveness of the identification of “Christus” as Jesus of Nazareth in Tacitus’ reference. I myself usually try to poke holes in my own identifications, in order to test their strength. But in this instance, I find no concrete grounds for doubt that is legitimate in theory. There is no evidence of any competing Messianic movement that began in Judea, spread to Rome, and worshipped and/or obeyed a Christus who was executed by order of Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. If actual evidence of such a movement should surface, I would have to re-evaluate the reference in Tacitus. Until then, the eviednce indicates that the “Chrestians” whom we know as Christians were the only ones in town.

  42. Bruce says

    Lawrence, you agree that the language used 2000 years ago in Palestine was Aramaic? You write that the name Jesus was an “English equivalent of the Latin version of a Greek name ..” That is already 3 language translations removed from the original Aramaic. Which reminds me of the whisper game as a child where a sentence is whispered into the ear of a child by a teacher & that child whispers it into the next child & so on, until the 20th kid repeats what he or she heard & it bears little resemblance to the initial sentence.

    Let me rephrase my wrong opinionated use of the word ‘ridiculous’ to ‘highly unlikely’ and especially in light of Isaiah 7:14 from the old testament which was reiterated in the new testament in Matthew 1:23, and that being Immanuel which is conventionally translated as “God is with us” but if one digs further into scholarly writings, other translations emerge such as “one with the knowledge of God” or “one with Godly wisdom”, “one with knowledge of the gods”, etc. However, they all relate and point to the fact that his birth name was Immanuel or Emmanuel, etc. The motives for whhy this extremely important prophecy is swept under the rug begs questioning. And the name Immanuel is much more in keeping with given names in that part of the world 2000 years ago.

    Consider Jesus or Immanuel’s siblings names: from what I can gather for his brothers, possibly including adopted ones – Judas, Joseph, Simeon, Jakobus, Thomas. And sisters, Maria-Susanne, Esther, Mirjam.

    All these names, while English translations, seem plausible for the times, without literary translational gymnastics, which twist, torture and bend the truth to accommodate belief & assumption.

    Nor can I buy the fact that human beings 2000 years ago went by many names. How many names did the previous prophets go by? I only see Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Enoch.

    The fact that I raise about what other facts were altered about the man & the events at that time are hardly speculation but only reasonable, ratioinal & logical questions, particularly since the new testament was only finalized and commissioned 400 years after the fact!! That was hardly the digital age back then where recordings & videos could remain for all time. In fact very few humans were able to read or write. To the victors, not only went the spoils but the history books as well.

  43. Bruce says

    Lawrence, you also bring up the ’12 apostles’, all of whom were male. We know from Jewish culture as well as Islamic culture that women were given a back seat not only in literature but with regards to power and position and such even remains painfully obvious today in Islamic culture as well as the more orthodox or hasidic areas of Jewish culture.

    I also find it ‘highly unlikely’ and yes, to the point of ridiculousness, that there are zero female apostles or disciples. Talk about historical revisionism. Do women not crave nor seek out the truth in spiritual as well as material matters!?

  44. Lawrence says

    Reply to Bruce (42. and 43. above):
    Regarding 42: The attempted analogy to the children’s game is not really analogous, because that process is secret (you call it a “whisper game”) until the very end, when the very different result is a surprise, a sort of “punch line.” In the case of Scripture, however, we have the written texts in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and other ancient languages, therefore they can be compared in a very open process—indeed, this process of comparison has been international for many centuries. We also have the benefit of the work of countless scholars who have dedicated many years of their lives to learning the ancient languages and analyzing Scripture texts to give us the best possible translations into modern languages and interpretations according to the historical, cultural, and literary contexts. (It is a pity to see these dedicated men and women rewarded by some with suspicion.) Today the process is all the more open because of Internet access, and even Wikipedia can often be quite helpful to those who consult it.

    Scripture gives several names, titles, and epithets to the person whose name was Jesus–which, according to Luke 1:26-33, was given by God and communicated by the angel Gabriel. Let me assure you, by giving his correct name, as given both by Josephus and by the Gospel writers, scholars are not making any attempt to “sweep” any of these names, titles, or epithets “under the rug,” as comment 42 disparagingly phrases it. His names are to be understood as the New Testament’s open declarations of his character and achievements. To seize on them as points about which to haggle seems to indicate that some other agenda is at work.

    Moving to your statements about the names of Jesus’ siblings (even it the names you have listed were correct) are irrelevant to the question of his name, about which I have already replied in comment 39 above.

    Finally, you are correct that some persons in the Bible are called by only one name, but this did not come about because of any restriction. Others are indeed called by more than one name. In Genesis 32:28, the patriarch Jacob is named Israel (the origin of the name of the nation descended from him), though he is still called Jacob in later chapters. Azariah, king of Judah, whose son Jotham succeeded him as king (2 Kings 15:1-7, 17, 23, 27) is also called Uzziah in the same chapter. verses 13, 30, etc. Verses 30, 32, and 34 make that clear by mentioning that King Jotham was the son of King Uzziah. In the New Testament, Saul the persecutor of Christians becomes the apostle Paul.

  45. Lawrence says

    Reply to Bruce (43. above):
    In the first paragraph, you correctly state that Jesus’ appointing 12 men as apostles was in accord with his culture, which was patriarchal In the second paragraph, you find that the appointing of 12 men and no women as apostles is “highly unlikely” and shows that the record was tampered with (“historical revisionism”). These two paragraphs appear to contradict each other. I cannot make sense of comment 43 as it is stated.

    It is worth noting that Jesus’ actions in John chapter 4 and elsewhere disregarded cultural expectations (men were not supposed to speak with women in public, especially if they were not related) in order to reach out to women with the gospel.

    Also, the fact that there was no female apostle among the 12 apostles does not mean that no women were ever apostles, See the book by Robin Cohn, titled Junia: The Forgotten Apostle, beautifully described and illustrated at http://robincohn.net/books/junia-the-forgotten-apostle/ .

  46. Joe says

    One of the best articles BAR has ever published. I have sent it to several friends and it has made me renew my subscription.

  47. Brian says

    Lawrence,

    Thank you for a very interesting article.You laid out well the non-Christian evidence for Jesus’ existence. I agree with you that Tacitus probably got his information from non-Christian sources and was sufficiently well-placed to get accurate information. On the other hand, he is fairly far removed from the events themselves, which significantly weakens the value of his reference.

    With regard to Josephus, there are two points that could be mentioned or emphasized more strongly to back up his reference. First, as a priest active in the temple in Jerusalem in the 60’s CE, he likely was an eyewitness to the person of James, brother of Jesus with intimate personal knowledge of the events that led to James’ death. He is not simply reporting on something he has read. Therefore, we can be certain that a James existed who personally identified and was identified by everyone else as the “brother of Jesus who is called the Christ.” This is hardly possible without Jesus actually existing. Of course, Paul also provides eyewitness evidence for “James brother of the Lord,” so Christian and secular sources are equally determinative on this point. The second point is that I recall that Origen made some reference to Josephus not believing in Jesus. Do you know where he made that comment? In any case, this comment by Origen hardly makes sense unless he is referring to some statement made by Josephus in his works, strengthening the argument that the Testimonium Flavianum is original to Josephus but without the Christianizing elements.

    Finally, in an unrelated note, you repeatedly refer to 29 CE as the likely year that Jesus died. What reasons do you have for this claim? I’ve always heard that 30 CE and 33 CE are the only viable candidates, since they are the two years during Pilate’s reign when the Passover occurred on the Sabbath (so I’ve read) in keeping with the claims of John’s gospel. Why do you prefer 29 CE?

  48. Bruce says

    Lawrence, there was no contradiction in my words as you yourself wrote – “Jesus’ actions in John chapter 4 and elsewhere disregarded cultural expectations “, which is my point, that Jesus would not follow incorrect male-dominated tradition and would indeed have female apostles. Wasn’t the whole point of Jesus’s mission to bring any falsified teachings of Judaism back to its original spiritual truths and some of that falsification no doubt relegated women to a back-seat in spiritual matters and truths of the equalness of human beings regardless of gender, race, creed, nationality, etc., therefore he would certainly have attracted females to his teaching and in the role of apostles as well, yet they remain stricken from the final revision & version of the New Testament commissioned 400 years after the fact by the Roman King and Christian, King Constantine.

    Also, from your words, I gather that you do not think Jesus’s real & correct birth name was Immanuel per the Isaiah prophecy and reiterated by Matthew. Therefore, just who do you think they were referring when they both wrote ” Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”?

  49. Lawrence says

    Reply to Brian (47. above):
    Thank you for your thoughtful responses.
    Regarding Tacitus having access to accurate information about “Christus” in contrast to Tacitus himself being chronologically distant from Jesus, while of course one is free to take a differing view, I cannot agree that his personal distance in time “significantly weakens the value of his reference.” Rather, I take the value of his reference to be entirely dependent on the quality of the information that he gathered, rather than when he gathered it.
    If I may make a comparison, I work with an excellent scholar who recently visited two archives in Spain to access the records of Queen Mariana of Austria, who lived in the 1600s and was also Queen consort of Spain. Although this present-day scholar is now more than 300 years removed from Queen Mariana, her references to Mariana’s statecraft and policies do not suffer any loss of value at all, because this scholar carefully bases her description and analysis on the documents from the inner circles of government during the 1600s.

    Regarding your two observations that strengthen Josephus references to Jesus, on the first observation, I would say that if Josephus were not himself an eyewitness, he very likely had access to eyewitness testimony, and that would indeed strengthen the credibility of his references. Your second observation, on Origen’s comment, is also correct, and it also strengthens “the argument that the Testimonium Flavianum is original to Josephus but without the Christianizing elements.”
    In the Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. IX, see Origen, Commentary on Matthew, Book X, Chapter 17. (I actually found this chapter online.) Speaking of “Flavius Josephus, who wrote the “Antiquities of the Jews” in twenty books,” Origen speaks of
    “the things which they dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is that, though he [meaning Josephus] did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great. . . .”

    Finally, my use of c. 29 C.E. as the date of the crucifixion is entirely the result of my own arithmetic, counting from 1) Jesus’ birth being sometime during 4 to 6 B.C.E., 2) Luke’s mention that he began his ministry at about 30 years of age, and 3) adopting the customary view that his ministry lasted 3 1/2 years (some opt for 2/12 years). (Typically, people who deal with ancient dates are content with approximate years, and I am one of those people.) Nevertheless, I am pleased that you seem to have a more knowledgeable and refined way of settling on the date. Now I have a better Idea why some New Testament scholars always use 30 C.E.. Thank you.

  50. Brian says

    Lawrence,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I do enjoy chatting with knowledgeable scholars! With regard to Tacitus, I agree that it’s the quality of the sources that matters. However, without knowing his sources, we have to expect that the later the writer, the more likely it is that the sources have been influenced by or are dependent on Christian writings. I think that would reduce our confidence that Tacitus has sources independent of what Christians are saying (which would be biased in favor of existence).

    With regard to the dating of Jesus’ death, the gospel of John provides multiple lines of evidence that are all consistent with each other. For example, the quote early in the gospel in which Jesus claims he can destroy the temple and rebuild it has his listeners respond with incredulity because the temple has been under construction for 46 years. The best date for the start of that construction is shortly after Passover in 18 BCE, so the conversation is dated by John to 28 CE. The two-year ministry laid out by John then brings Jesus’ death to Passover of 30 CE, which agrees with his claim of Passover being on the Sabbath. Given the traditional problems of dating events in ancient times, this agreement seems impossible unless the information is based on an historical reality.

    The dating of Jesus’ birth is much more speculative, other than to say before 4 BCE. However, I would note a peculiar coincidence. The best candidate for the famous star of Bethlehem is likely a triple conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn in 7 – 6 BCE. It’s the same year in which Herod had two of his sons, future potential kings of the Jews, executed for treason (it’s discussed in detail by Josephus). This is the event that prompted Caesar Augustus to quip “I’d rather be Herod’s swine than his son.” In any case, one might see in these two events the claim that when a “star” appeared in the sky, Herod ordered the slaughter of innocents (did his sons really plot against him?) to kill a future king of the Jews. It’s not hard to see how Matthew’s account might be a garbled version of these events, dating Jesus’ birth to 7 – 6 BCE.

    All in all, the dating of Jesus’ life seems to be 6 BCE – 30 BCE with fairly high confidence, making him 34 years old at the start of his ministry (“about 30,” as in not 20 or 40) and 36 at his death.

1 2 3 4

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Hello! You friend thought you might be interested in reading this post from http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org:
Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible!
Here is the link: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jesus-exist/
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