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.


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.


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:


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


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.


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.


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.

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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).



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]”:


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. DANIEL says

    Is there a book that contains all the info, explained above
    And there is such book where can I get one

  2. Paul says

    The entire argument is based on the completely false assumption that Christ, Christus, Chrestus and Messiah mean “chosen one”. This terrible, wrong assumption has led to thousands of years of political incorrectness, in as much as we have completely misunderstood the correct way to govern the planet! It does NOT mean “chosen one” it means “anointed one”. And if you check your facts, that means someone who has been anointed with an oil primarily consisting of “ancient myrrh” (Exodus 30:23) described by Dioscordes as the “Egyptian Thorn” which is NOT the myrrh of today. This anointing is a purely physical and mental process intended to remove greed from the human psyche, nothing to do with being chosen by God, or elected by men. As such, there were many, many historical Christs and we governed this planet a lot better than the Romans or our present governments.

  3. Lawrence says

    Reply to Daniel (comment 1 above):
    Thank you for asking, Daniel.
    Almost all of the following books are available new or used (less expensive) from Internet booksellers. Your local public or academic library might also have some or all of these, and typically libraries appreciate suggestions for what books to add to their collections.

    a. On the specific topic of evidence outside of the Bible regarding Jesus’s existence, in my view, the best book is:
    Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000).

    b. For more general coverage of both Christian and non-Christian sources, both of the following books are excellent and up to date:
    Craig A. Evans, ed., Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (New York: Routledge, 2008)
    Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998).
    Note: Thiessen and Merz make the important point that 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” (p. 23).

    (My article above is intended to cover the non-Christian sources, so it actually presents only a relatively small part of the whole picture. But it is the part that seems to attract more interest these days, especially from people who read Biblical Archaeology Review or visit the Biblical Archaeology Society’s web site.)

    c. A somewhat older book that is still excellent—and on certain points actually providing a better perspective—is F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1974], pp. 14–15).

    Another important book is Bart D. Ehrman’s strong affirmation of Jesus’ existence in his Did Jesus Exist? (New York: HarperOne, 2012). It is largely based on New Testament data. 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 (p. 173). Ehrman presents his case as a scholar of the New Testament. His book is interesting, because he considers himself an agnostic, but he finds the historical case for Jesus’ existence to be solid.

    Best wishes, Daniel, as you explore this fascinating subject.

    Lawrence Mykytiuk

  4. Lawrence says

    A second reply to Daniel (comment 1 above):

    The information in my first reply came from endnotes 4 and 5 above. For other books on particular subtopics or sources, see the other endnotes.

    Among the best of these specialized books mentioned in the endnotes is:

    Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003). Mason’s book is a thorough, scholarly examination of his topic. Some parts are fairly easy reading, and other parts require the reader’s close concentration, but it is an excellent way to get acquainted with several important sources outside of the New Testament.

  5. Lawrence says

    Reply to Paul (comment 2 above):

    You are correct that Christ (in English), Christus (in Latin), and Messiah (an English rendering of the Hebrew) all mean “anointed.” (Chrestus, a common Roman name for slaves, means neither “anointed” nor “chosen,” but rather “good, kind, useful/”)

    Your own views regarding anointing, however, which you are certainly free to hold in your own context, are entirely different from the view presented in 1 Samuel chapter 16, where divine choice of the person to be anointed is explicit.

    In the first verse of that chapter, God tells the prophet Samuel:

    “Fill your horn with oil and be on your way. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

    Samuel’s oil was to be used to anoint a future king of Israel, precisely because, as the text says, God had chosen him. In the ancient Hebrew practice of anointing, the choice of the anointed person to be anointed in order to assume office was always implicit and sometimes explicit.

    According to verse 10 of 1 Samuel chapter 16, “Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ ”

    In the following verses, Jesse sent for the youngest, who was named David. When David arrived, “then the LORD said, ‘Rise and anoint him; he is the one.’ So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers” (chapter 16, verse 12).

    It is explicit and clear in this passage in the Hebrew Bible that those whom God had not chosen to be king were not to be anointed, but the one son whom God had chosen to be king was to be anointed.

    Of course, there were quite a few ancient Hebrew kings and priests, and these were anointed as an initiation rite, to assume office. So yes, there was a plurality of messiahs, or anointed ones, who preceded Jesus.

    In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people were fervently awaiting the descendant of David to deliver them from subjugation to Rome (several of Jesus’ parables were intended to change this expectation of what he would accomplish). The Jewish people referred to this coming descendant of David as the Messiah. Thus the pre-eminent Messiah came to be viewed as one and only one person, and the Scriptural implication, taken directly from the Hebrew Bible, was that God has chosen the coming Messiah. Jews believe that he is yet to come, whereas Christians believe that he has come and will come again.

    Lawrence Mykytiuk

  6. Nadav says

    Throwing out option 1 and saying that his entire testimony is not true is based on a very wrong assumption that you can’t be Jewish and Christian.
    Allow me to demonstrate :
    Jesus is the messiah, he was crucified and rose on the third day. If I truly believe this with all my heart – what does that make me? A believer in Jesus! I am also Jewish. I will not forsake the rich jewish heritage and testimony of the old testament (although I strongly reject modern day rabbinical Judaism). And I will not reject the rich jewish heritage and testimony of the new testament!

    What more does someone have to believe to be saved. Should Josephus throw out Passover and celebrate Easter and call Sunday his holy day as well? Where in the new testament does it tell us to do these things to be saved

    This argument is swallowed by most Christians because of their own flawed theology and because of the leven that has crept in.

  7. Lawrence says

    Reply to Nadav (comment 6 above):

    Nadav, your perceptive comment really made me think. I completely accept your view that a person can be Jewish and a believer in Jesus. In fact, every last one of the twelve whom Jesus chose and called to follow him was Jewish. The earliest church, at the moment when it began in Acts chapter 2, was initially composed entirely of Jewish men and Jewish women. The Jewishness of the early church was so predominant that a major question that had to be settled in the early church—at the council of Jerusalem (Acts chapter 15)— was whether Gentiles should be required to convert to Judaism before they could become Christians. That was expressed as being “circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). The Jerusalem Council affirmed that only faith in Jesus was necessary for salvation. This Council did tell them to avoid certain things, but in a way that makes their message seem more like advice.

    In the article above, Alternative 1 is rejected primarily because Josephus shows not the slightest sign of being a believer in Jesus anywhere else in his voluminous writings (see Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, 2nd ed. [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003], p. 229). In fact, Josephus mentions Jesus only twice—in his work titled Jewish Antiquities, books 18 and 20. The above article and its notes take pains to describe several translations which reflect other versions of exactly what Josephus said in book 18. In these, it seems very likely that Josephus was not confessing any personal faith of his own that Jesus was the Messiah, but rather that _others_ thought or believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Also, the Christian scholar Origen, who was well acquainted with Josephus’ writings, lamented that Josephus “did not believe in Jesus as Christ” (Origen, Commentary on Matthew, book 10, section 17, available online at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/101610.htm ).

    Thank you, Nadav, for making me clarify this important question.

    Lawrence Mykytiuk

  8. Davon says

    Yes Jesus is on the right hand side of God his father and the hour is near when all creation will see him. God bless

  9. Christopher says

    Gaius Plautius!

  10. Christopher says

    Gaius Plautius (see: Frontinius 5, Tac.Hist. 1:37, Annals 15: 47) etc

  11. Sidney says

    The non-Christian witness is inconclusive. It neither proves that Jesus existed nor that he did not. The earliest account of the life of Jesus is contained in the Gospel of Mark. As I demonstrate in my book Secret of the Savior: The Myth of the Messiah in Mark, the life of Jesus recapitulates the history of salvation. Jesus is a symbol of salvation, which is what the name Jesus means. He stands for whomever or whatever Mark sees as the instrument or embodiment of salvation at any given point in time. He is Joshua, or David, or the Teacher of Righteousness, or later figures in the history of Israel. Mark does not appear to know of a particular person he lived at the time and place the Gospel is set. There is not one historical Jesus, there are many.

  12. Lawrence says

    Reply to Sidney (comment 11 above):
    I hear your claims of inconclusiveness, but not a refutation of the evidence, particularly in Josephus, which the article presents.

  13. Franck says

    Let me understand that…So jesus existed because:
    He was a “Jhon Smith”, knowing that “Smith”, in this case, is a religious honorific title that had been given before to others jews that would represent a leadership or would be leadership in some way.

    Well thats pretty slim isn t it, it is a clear base upon myth are created.
    Isn t there anything more convincing ?
    I mean, if jesus was a common name, wouldn t we have many Jesus (real or invented) doing diferent things and not being the same person?
    Especially as the jewish were seeking new leadership that would free them of the domination of Rome.

    It wouldn t be the first or last case in history.

    And if he won so many Greeks over (even stating that the conversions were after his death, why don t we see any greek comment on jesus life?)

  14. Lawrence says

    Reply to Franck (comment 13 above):
    I would like to respond to your last question first. You have said:

    “And if he won so many Greeks over (even stating that the conversions were after his death, why don t we see any greek comment on jesus life?)”

    There is no lack of “Greeks” (a first-century term used to describe people of Hellenistic culture) writing about Jesus within the first century or so after his crucifixion. Consider the writings of the apostolic fathers of the church, who of course were believers in Jesus, but also leaders of many other Christians to whom they wrote and whom they pastored. The main apostolic fathers include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna (who was follower of the apostle John and was later martyred for his faith), and Justin Martyr. Of course, as the church grew, many more “Greeks” who were Christians wrote about Jesus. For the major leaders, besides many pastors and others whom they led, see the timeline at:
    https://www.preceden.com/timelines/10328-church-fathers-50—750-a-d- .
    “We” can see them there. I hope you take a look. The writings of these and other “Greek” Christians form a whole field of study, called patristics. Their writings provide fascinating views of the early and developing church.
    I plan to reply to your other remarks separately.
    Best wishes,
    Lawrence Mykytiuk

  15. Lawrence says

    Second reply to Franck (comment 13 above):
    Josephus, who grew up in first-century Palestine (and went to Rome as a grown man and a former army general) identifies James as the brother of “Jesus-who-is-called-Christ,” He presents Jesus’ brother James as a leader of the earliest church in Jerusalem and gives a description of how James was martyred. (Josephus’ description of the way in which James was murdered is different from the Christian version, so it is evidently independent of Christian sources).

    Of course, there might have been other men named Jesus who—in a way different from Jesus’s redemption of his people (see Matthew 1:21)—tried to be messiahs and deliver the Jewish nation from Roman rule. But any other Jesuses who might have existed did not have a brother named James who was a leader of the early church in Jerusalem and was martyred. Only the one whom Josephus referred to as Jesus-who-is-called-Christ had this brother.

    Josephus also wrote about other people mentioned in the New Testament, including John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate. These were some of the historical figures, including Jesus, whom he identifies very specifically. It is clear that Josephus grew up in the same culture in which Jesus and the apostles lived. If anyone was qualified to deny the existence of the Jesus whom the Christians followed, it was Josephus. But instead, he mentions this Jesus as a historical person.
    Best wishes,
    Lawrence Mykytiuk

  16. Ian says

    I believe Jesus was a great teacher, who came to help humanity and lift their minds, but he was also murdered by the reptilian evil.
    What we know now, is that absolute evil has been ruling this planet for thousands of years, keeping the souls of humanity trapped and recycled, in this dimension, the leaders of this world do not serve humanity, they serve the beast, the Devil and how this is done is through, the evil power elite who want everything, not only own all the land, all the food, all the water and everything they desire total power. God gave us everything for free, they want it for themselves. Over the decades we have seen how most of the worlds wealth has been sucked out by these evil people. That is why the 1% have more than 55% of the worlds wealth in their greedy claws. I and most of humanity hope Jesus will come soon, and help git ride of this evil. If Jesus was set up like most religions by a powerful elite, who wanted to keep us under control, then what hope does humanity have, It means this evil will continue, it means they will get their wicked way, Have their Leader the Devil as head of the New World Order as this is what this is, it means many people will be killed for not receiving the mark of the beast 666 which is the electronic microchip, and people r already being chipped, because they are silly enough to think it is cool technology. Any technology that is used against humanity must be destroyed. If there is no one to save us, then we need to wake up and take back our planet from these evil parasites. Humanity has been so trapped that is why it has been so hard to unravel this mystery. But what we know now and increasing numbers of people around the world are waking up to the fact that this planet is really in control of an evil sickening war mongering race of aliens known as the reptilians and history reveals, that they altered our DNA shortened our lives, from hundreds of years to what we are now, shut down most of our DNA so that we are no longer in touch with the creator, and for thousands of years, we have been trapped, in an never ending recycled to this planet life after life and we do not remember our past lives because they have set up a system where our souls are trapped and all our memories are erased, The need us to suck the energy. Now when one does real research we can understand what has really happened. So how do we get free? Yes, we can have faith but we are going to have to fight for our freedom. I ask this question? Why would a loving God whose wishes is that humanity evolve on a spiritual level, allow us to have our minds shut down, and we never knowing the truth for thousands of years, it is only because of a higher energy coming to this world, and that amazing people are risking their lives to find the real truth, that we are able to uncover the true history. I believe God and the gardeners of this world have taken leave and have done for a very long time, so the evil beings re the ones who have had control, we are now in the end times, which mean there are only a few years left if we are lucky, before everything is wiped out.

  17. basil says

    as always in these cases, any “evidence” of a historical jesus comes from examples from writings completed decades after the supposed execution of jesus. no contemporary writings exist, even though comprehensive records were kept by greek and roman historians of the time. the observation in this article that jesus didn’t have many followers during his life is not supported in the bible. luke 24 states that everyone mourned the death of jesus, and expressed surprise that someone did not know of it. jesus supposedly had multitudes of followers, but there are no contemporary writings about him in historical texts. even the first new testament writings were written well after the supposed time of jesus.

  18. Lawrence says

    Reply to Basil (comment 17 above):

    Basil, in your comment, is there a desire to contend that overpowers a desire to learn the facts of the case? Only you really know.

    I would be very interested to learn what makes you say that “comprehensive records were kept” by Greek and Roman historians of the time. Classics scholars are very much aware of the limits of the writings they have studied, and I have not heard or read any of them make any such claim of “comprehensive records.”

    Further, scholars of the classics are painfully aware that only a portion of the Greek and Roman classical writings that once existed have survived the ravages of time, partly because some ancient writings that we have mention other writings that we don’t have. Of course, if not all classical writings survived, and if they were not comprehensive in the first place, one cannot use any lack of mention in the extant writings to make a case for a supposed non-existence of _anyone_.

    Experienced historians of the ancient world are normally delighted when they find any records, even if they were written centuries after the events—on the possibility or perhaps the likelihood that intervening writings which were later destroyed or lost carried the information to the centuries-later writings. Perhaps you have heard of scribes and monks copying old manuscripts to create new ones,and then throwing away the old ones? It is not unusual for a leather scroll to be legible and useful one or even two centuries after it was created. The fact that we have writings that originated only decades after the death of Jesus makes these writings actually very, very close to the events they mention—the historian’s equivalent of the next day’s morning news!

    I for one would be excited to read the memoires of an old Civil War soldier, even if it were written decades after the events recorded. Why should the writings of the New Testament authors who endured so much for the sake of Jesus—or the writings of Josephus (who really _was_ an old soldier) be any different?

    The apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in about 55 C.E., only about 25 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In chapter 15 he presents the facts of the gospel. Verses 3 and 4 report:

    “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

    Interestingly, Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus on his _third_ missionary journey. During those 25 years, he had been transformed from a persecutor of Christians to a Christian evangelist, and he had already made two previous missionary journeys. That puts his adoption of faith in Jesus quite a few years earlier, very close indeed to the crucifixion. Perhaps this very early, years-long series of events might make you reconsider.

    But about how many followers Jesus had when he died, I am willing to entertain other views, because the definition of “follower” can be different. It is not surprising that actual disciples (in Greek, “learners”) were fewer than the people who followed him in order to be healed or to take their chances on getting a free lunch.

    Best wishes, Basil,

    Lawrence Mykytiuk

  19. Liang says

    I was saw Jesus come to me, talking to me and helping me. I saw it from my own eyes. The Jesus is really exist.

  20. Kirk says

    @Lawrence Thank you for a clearly informative article about the extra-Biblical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ. This information is very useful for Christian Apologetics.
    It was only a week or two ago, that I noticed a national publication claiming that “many experts” were again questioning the historicity of the existence of a real Jesus Christ. ( What rubbish )
    I don’t believe in Him because of the Bible; I believe the Bible because I have heard His voice. He is real; He is Risen; He is LORD. Hallelujah !!

  21. Lawrence says

    Reply to Kirk (comment 20 above):
    Thanks, Kirk, I’m glad you find the article useful. As you note, it’s important to distinguish the real state of affairs, which is that scholars across the board accept the historicity of Jesus with extremely few exceptions, as opposed to false claims that “many experts” question the historical existence of Jesus.
    If your path to faith was not via the Bible, no problem! I myself came to faith by the more conventional route of Scripture (Psalm 22, “of David,” written centuries before the crucifixion, compared with the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion).

  22. Markus says

    What do you have to say about Carriers response to your criticism, “(1) “Tacitus so despised Christians that he would have instinctively distrusted practically anything they said.” This is not how Tacitus operated. What he reports he considers so embarrassing, he wouldn’t need to fact-check it. It is precisely because he finds this story so ridiculous yet the Christians were admitting to it (if they were his source) that he would report it just as they relayed it. Meanwhile, there is no evidence Tacitus did any fact checking of it, or that he even could have done so, much less would have wasted the countless hours needed to do so, to verify an embarrassing story that was already being conceded as true by the Christians themselves.
    (2) I mention and already rebut your attempt to invent as a fact that Tacitus used other sources. I explained why there is no evidence for that nor any reason to believe it likely or even possible. Whereas I referenced the considerable evidence supporting Pliny as his source, which means, Christians Pliny interrogated—and didn’t fact check. You haven’t provided any counter to any of this. You just repeated the same claims my argument refuted.
    (3) Claiming you were writing a popular article does not excuse you from ignoring and failing to cite or include in your article the results of the most recent scholarship. You had plenty of space for a lot of citations and even lengthy comments in notes. Yet you didn’t have space to mention the latest research and keep the text of your article up to date with it? There is no excuse for that. Popular articles should get the audience up to date on the latest research. Not decades old research that has been superseded or even overthrown since.
    (4) You “find other works that deny the existence of Jesus to be more important” — Like what? Name a single book written by an expert in ancient history under peer review at an academic press that presents a case that Jesus didn’t exist.”?

  23. Lawrence says

    A first reply (of two) to Markus (comment 22 above):

    Regarding your points 3 and 4, no doubt you would like to have me produce a list of recommended atheist writers and herald the glories of their writings which deny the human existence of Jesus. I simply find other writers to be more important than Carrier, and of course you are free to disagree. The fact that his books are more recent than others by his fellow deniers has nothing to do with their quality.

    This site, however, despite your apparent wishes, is not about the comparative virtues of atheist writers, but about evidence for the existence of Jesus. Later this week, I plan to reply to your points 1 and 2, which are germane to the topic.

    Lawrence Mykytiuk

  24. luis says

    Obviously that Jesus Christ exist for me in my heart

  25. shumaila says

    Sir,you went in to that detail regarding Jesus(peace be upon him) exist or not.But its not fair that You forgot to mention Holy Book of Muslims which proves the existence of Jesus Christ(peace be upon him) too.We all Muslims believe him to be Messiah and we believe he is coming back.Glorious Quran says this about Jesus(peace be upon him):

    O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs

    The Messiah son of Mary was not but a Messenger, many Messengers passed away before him. And his mother is a truthful woman. Both used to take food. See how clear signs We explain for them, then see how they are turned away

    And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain

    Undoubtedly, those are infidels, who say, “Masih son of Maryam is the very Allah’. And whereas Masih had said ‘O children of lsrail worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord Undoubtedly, whoso. Associates anyone with Allah,then Allah has forbidden paradise to him and his abode is Hell. And there is no helper of unjust.

    Sir the name of Jesus(peace be upon him) came 25 times in Holy Quran.The name of Mary(peace be upon her) came 32 times in Quran.There is a full chapter with the name ‘Mary’ and it was revealed in Quran in the honor of Mary(peace be upon her).

    Sir,for Muslims this prove is enough that Jesus(peace be upon him) existed and he is the Messiah and he is coming back.

  26. Lawrence says

    Reply to Shumila (comment 25 above):
    Thank you sir, for your sincere comment. The article asks and answers only one question: “Did Jesus Exist?” I am pleased that we agree on the answer, that he did exist as a man who was born on earth and lived well into his adulthood on earth. The fact that he was a real man on earth is shown to be true by the Roman, Jewish, and Greek sources treated in this article, as well as by the New Testament, which is sacred to Christians, and finally by the Qur’an, which is sacred to Muslims.

    I am pleased to stand together with you, sir, in opposition to those who deny that he was a real man and that he lived on earth. Despite their denials, the historical evidence for his human life on earth, in all the writings that I have mentioned, has never been refuted, and is, I believe, irrefutable.

  27. Lawrence says

    This is the second of two replies to Markus (comment 22 above):
    I also wish to respond to your first two points:
    !) Classicists are familiar with the fact that most ancient Roman historians, including Tacitus, did not reveal their sources. More to the point, elsewhere in his writings, as some classicists have observed, Tacitus notes when a particular historical assertion is in doubt. In reference to “Christus,” however, he does not do that. The absence of such a note does not prove, but does suggest, that he has verified what he wrote about “Christus” from sources that he considered reliable This suggestion, based on the ancient text, is stronger than present-day theorizing, whether yours or mine.
    2) Despite your assertion, I did not “attempt to invent as a fact that Tacitus used other sources,” since, as I have plainly acknowledged, his sources remain unknown to modern researchers. I did, however, make a case for his having had access to what the Romans might have recorded, or knew and spoke to each other, about “Christus,” as follows:

    As stated in note 8 above, Tacitus “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., [as Tacitus himself informs us,] 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 was in his early twenties when the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Because he believed in the Roman gods, it would have been logical for him to think this mass annihilation occurred because the gods were angry. He would then have been very careful to keep a close watch on foreign religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, Mithraism, etc., which might irritate the gods. Tacitus might easily have learned about “Christus” while serving on the Board of Fifteen that oversaw foreign religions.

  28. Lawrence says

    A second reply to Shumaila (comment 25 above):
    Ms. Shumaila, I beg your pardon for not understanding that your name is a woman’s name, and I am sorry that I misspelled it. Please accept this correction.
    As I just now learned from a Google search on your name, it is a lovely name of a woman, meaning “beautiful face.”

  29. james says

    The question is not “did Jesus live” ? but does Jesus live?
    This is what Lord Jesus (God Logos) told St. Symeon upon making himself worthy to Gods presence.
    “It is me, God, Who became man for you; and behold that I have made you, as you see, and shall make you god”.

    St. Symeon the New Theologian Greek Orthodox Church
    The vision of Divine Light

    lets talk!

  30. Dennis says

    funny we know so much about Tacitus and Josephus’s lives, birth, families, who they worked for, what they did their whole lives, so many mentions and people so firm in their convictions about them, just two historians of little consequence. There are busts and statues of both of them, but?

    yet nothing from the time of jesus about the new savior and messiah who did miracles so fantastic everyone would be talking about them. nothing about Jesus outside the NT rising from the dead in view of all those people, silence, nothing. Maybe because real people knew Josephus and Tacitus, just silence about Jesus. No newspaper accounts, no poems about him during his life, nothing written on walls or papyrus? No busts, no carvings?

    I can’t get past both josephus and tacitus were not yet born when Jesus died, and after they were born waited most of their lives to write anything at all about that time and those people. were they pressured to write something, anything, about jesus?

    Whether jesus lived or not is of no consequence, it’s not the jesus people pray through. The jesus the NT writers crafted the stories around to make him the messiah from the past, the redeemer is the one that is the legend, the myth. The text above says jesus was crucified for his own sins (not ours) or for preaching an unapproved message from an illegal religion. There were many preachers of unapproved religions who got crucified at the time, and we know more about them than Jesus.

  31. Wayne says

    While with great care it is true that some reference to Christ can be found. But the references are much less than are found for Jim Jones or some other historical character. From the vast amount of information on historical events, the references to Jesus are almost inconsequential. I think this is good because people would have Jesus proven to them. The followers of Jesus were followers because of the Spirit. Jesus becomes huge because of the Spirit and the historical Jesus is proven because of the Spirit. Otherwise Jesus is meaningless. This is because if one does not have his life, the life he brought, one might as well have never heard of him.

  32. Lawrence says

    Reply to Dennis (comment 30 above):
    Your basic problem seems to be more with ancient history than with Jesus. And if I may suggest it, perhaps you might read (or re-read?) some of the Gospels in the New Testament.

    I will admit that there were no newspaper accounts, but there were no newspapers about 14 centuries before Gutenberg and the invention of moveable type, let alone modern paper instead of papyrus. Word of mouth was supreme, and that is precisely how belief in Jesus spread.

    Romans were not eager to learn about foreign religions, unless they posed a threat to their Roman culture, just as most Americans cared little about central Asia before 9/11/01. It is to be expected that Roman historians like Tacitus and the Romanized Jewish historian Josephus had little to say about Jesus, and even then, they wrote about him only in passing. Tacitus wanted to revive the Roman civic spirit with his acerbic condemnation of unworthy leaders, and Josephus wanted to tell of the glories of Judaism. Jesus, as they understood him, did not suit their agendas. Perhaps you should give him credit for having his own agenda (generated by his profound love for others), and for following through personally, in the costliest way possible.

    True, you will not find busts and carvings made by Jews in Israel during the earliest days of the Christian church, because of the way they observed the prohibition against graven images—and it appears that the earliest believers from among the Gentiles followed the lead of the Jewish majority of believers in Jesus. Even pagan Roman governors over Jewish populations refrained from depicting human beings on the coins they issued in Palestine, because of the people’s sensitivity on this issue. You seem to suggest that there were lots of Jewish-made images of their first-century human heroes, and somehow Jesus got left out. Well, in that culture, everyone got left out.

    You also assert that we know more about Tacitus than we do about Jesus. Really? We have four first-century Gospels which recount a large store of information about the things you mention regarding Jesus, including much written by eyewitnesses—or Luke, who interviewed eyewitnesses—or, in the case of Peter, by his secretary Mark who wrote what Peter preached. Have you found four biographies of Tacitus? I know some classicists who would love to read them–if they exist, as you imply. I await your reply giving publication information.

    Josephus wrote an autobiography (did you know?) whose English translation appears in 26 pages, so we have one account of his life, compared with four about Jesus (which, by the way, _were_ written on papyrus). I will let you find and read Josephus’ autobiography, if you are willing, and compare it with the Gospels, if you are willing to read them. I know of no biographies of Josephus, as you seem to suggest. Again, if you can find a few, there are lots of classicists who would love to read them.

    Do you actually know that no one wrote poems about Jesus during his lifetime? I suggest you read Luke chapter 1 for its songs about Jesus, chanted by Elizabeth, Mary, and my personal favorite, Simeon. They are poems in the Hebrew style, without rhyme, but with truly beautiful—even thrilling—content. But you “know” that no such poems ever existed. In this way, you deprive yourself of their beauty.

    Best wishes, Dennis.

    Lawrence Mykytiuk
    History Librarian, Associate Professor of Library Science
    Associate Professor of History (courtesy appointment)
    Purdue University

  33. Lawrence says

    Reply to Wayne (comment 31 above):
    I agree with quite a bit of what you wrote, I would like to just mention two ways in which discussions of the historical aspect of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament arise. For whatever reason, sometimes a person just wants to argue against sacred writings, and the discussion becomes a field of battle, not a mine in which one can search for reliable history.

    In other instances, a person is sincerely facing difficult issues regarding the facts of history and wants to hear, learn, and test what is said in order to arrive at their own view. In the latter instances, historical discussions can be extremely useful. And, if you will, God can use just about anything to accomplish what he wants, for our good.

    In a few instances, a person can shift in either direction. There may also be other alternatives that I have not thought of, but I wanted to mention these two. I started out in the opposite direction from the one I now take, and I am grateful to God and to certain people along the way whom he used.

    Lawrence Mykytiuk

  34. Dawson says

    It is my understanding that Unitarian Christians have examined the evidence and concluded there was no Jesus, son of God, born of a virgin who died for our sins at the hands of the Romans to appease the Jews. Is it reasonable of me to conclude that you would opine there is no strength in their case? May I have your opinion in your own words please?

  35. Lawrence says

    Reply to Dawson (comment 34 above):
    The ancient writings from outside the New Testament treated in this article, mainly those of Tacitus, Josephus, Lucian of Samosata, are evidence that the man Jesus, who was called Messiah (Christos in Greek) existed as a real man. In addition, these three all refer to his having been crucified. This is plainly stated by Josephus and Lucian, and classicists explain that Tacitus’ phrase, which is normally translated “suffered the extreme penalty,” also refers to crucifixion,

    Whether Jesus was in a unique sense the “son of God, born of a virgin who died for our sins” are articles of religious faith that are affirmed in the New Testament (unique, “only begotten” sonship in John 1:14 and 3:16, the virgin birth in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38, crucifixion for our sins in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). These beliefs are thus beyond the scope of the non-Christian writings treated in the article.

    Of course, not everyone believes the New Testament, but on the basis of evidences besides what is presented in the article—not simply my own opinion—I happen to accept the historical reliability of the New Testament and its explanation of the reason for Jesus’ death. I think the evidences are worth examining. At the same time, my dear Unitarian friends are entirely free to believe otherwise.

  36. Joe says

    How do we know that anyone existed–by the impact we have on the lives of others (remember that was the ‘message’ of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life). Since Jesus did not ‘fit’ the Messianic expectations of first century Jews (a conquering Messiah who would lead Israel to overthrow Rome)–we have to assume that He was a real person that existed in history. Whether you accept Him as Savior of the world is a matter of faith but it is unlikely that a group would ‘follow’ Him and die for some myth that never existed.

  37. Gregory says

    Josephus, a Jew, would not have called Jesus “Meshiach” or Messiah. This is a key criticism of the reliability and validity of the Testimonium Flavianum.

  38. Gregory says

    “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.” – That’s not really true. If Josephus had become a Christian, then we might expect him to use an appellation like Chrestus, Christ, etc., or a title like Messiah. But Josephus was a non-Christian Jew. It’s barely conceivable he would have used these terms in reference to a man that he, himself, did not believe was A) Christ (A Greek term, anyway, and not a Hebrew one), or Messiah (from the Hebrew, but a term traditionally meant to connote one who would deliver the Jewish nation from the Romans. Arguably, Jesus did not do that).

  39. Brenda says

    Thank you Lawrence. Your statements are concise and understandable. I find it interesting that so many commented that there are no Hellenistic writings that confirm the historical Jesus (Christ) yet they refuse to admit any Christian writings, most of which were Hellenistic. Most of our modern history has been written by people of faith (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindi, etc – including the Pilgrims, The Spanish Catholics, Anglican Priests even Atheists and Agnostics who believe with great faith in their position). Do we reject their ability to report history on the basis of their faith, politics, bias, or lack of tolerance? We would have no history at all.

  40. Stephen Ray says

    People seem to denigrate the Bible, or the Hebrew and Christian writings, as not a book of SCIENCE. But SCIENCE is an Anglicized Latin word for KNOWLEDGE, or the GNOSIS in Greek. Paul talks of something called EPIGNOSIS in its various forms or KNOWLEDGE UPON KNOWLEDGE, which can also be used as acknowledge or recognize…and don’t seem to recognize a great clue that magnifies the fact that this set of writings is based upon a rigorous principle akin to what we call the scientific method today. It is called for lack of any theological term I am aware of, THE TORAH LAW OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES THAT ESTABLISHES A MATTER. It is a generic name introduced by MOSES in the Torah, of establishing a truth, a judgment (in the three forms Moses uses) and Doctrine as used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 concerning two or three tongues with one translator or two or three prophets with one or the assembly judging. This reference is given an amen by Peter who appears to be giving commentary on Paul’s writings in his three books in emphasizing a point found in what I call the first corollary of two corollaries that depicts this Law of multiple witnesses in 2 Peter 1:20 where a more proper translation not effected by the Latin Vulgate in the Greek would be, “this first knowing that EVERY (one) prophecy of scripture is NOT OF ITS OWN INTERPRETATION,” answering Moses’ “in the mouth of ONE WITNESS shall no man be put to death,” or where Jesus says, “If I bear witness of myself my witness is not true.” In fact if you look at verse 21 of 2 Peter 1 you might even be able to see the entire Torah law of multiple witnesses where the first phrase emphasizes Corollary one, indicating a single witness (MAN) and a negative outlook, and the next phrase indicating Corollary two where a plural witness (men) gives a positive outlook with Peter identifying who the author of that would be in the God Head. That the Bible as an archive of eyewitness testimony governed by a schema of interpretation that seems to carry from the first to the last lawgiver where it is recorded internally at least that witnesses were intensely scrutinized before being allowed to present their positive testimony seems to put the Bible way above many of the ancient writings as concerning confidence in acceptation of these testimonies. The DIFFICULT part is in the wisdom of the judges to bring out the intended doctrine, judgment, truth or matter, and I believe the still extant (I’m a believer) gift of interpretation is called the discernment of spirits by Paul where spirits are the words produced by the prophets and witnesses that John says would have Holy Spirit enhanced memories, and where Peter says such “holy men” were carried along by in 2 Peter 1:21. As far as any other credibility, Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 clears away the path for only one to be extant today by predicting the stopping of the marvelous sign gifts to the Jews (Micah 7:15 compared to John 5:19-20) in a generation of 40 years (of 360 day years used at the time of the Exodus) and the gift of prophecy being done away with (consider 1Cor. 13:8-13) at the death of or the penning of the last archivable testimony (1 Cor. 13:10 where the ellipsis is given in 1 Cor. 1:6 and 2:1 as TO MARTURION and TO EK MEROUS identifies according to the law of two or three witnesses the single WITNESS giving testimony among the two or three or more recognized by the Schema of interpretation as being a Holy spirit enhanced member of the assembly as seen in 1 Cor.12:27 EK MEROUS and 1 Cor. 14:27 ANA MEROS) by the last eyewitness having this enhanced gift of Holy Spirit remembrance as promised by Jesus in John, who no doubt WAS John the apostle concerning his EYEWITNESS (or gospel of John) or his last PROPHECY (Revelation), perhaps sometime near or after 90-95 AD. What exists NOW as a credibility giving gift is the AGAPE or unconditional love that Paul says is to remain, which John the last eyewitness bubbles over in his epistles concerning as evidence for salvation, and John has Jesus saying in his John 13 chapter where Jesus says, “in THIS shall ALL KNOW that YE ARE MY DISCIPLES in that YE HAVE LOVE (agape) ONE TO ANOTHER.” Look closely at 1 Cor. 13:13 and when you consider looking into a mirror at the enigma of one’s self plastered in the background compared to looking into a mirror with TWO EYES seeing the stereoscopic image swimming normally between a background and possible foreground, which others see as well and which Paul coins a term EPIGNOSIS which form used in other places indicate in Paul’s and Luke’s and even Peter’s writings as KNOWLEDGE UPON KNOWLEDGE or established truth of eyewitness for which Paul is using as an analogy of how to consider the incomplete testimony and then that of the complete testimony when the scriptures are completed and doctrine established. Of course this is only a viewpoint of this geologist who uses the stereoscopic microscope that compares pairs of overlapping aerial photos that isolates each eye to focus on a common point and allows the brain to interpret from differing details of each point of focus even to the point of contradiction that gives us this stereoscopic or three dimensional perspective. It is amusing to see how what could be interpreted as a valley when comparing single photos actually a mountain peak when the two or laid side by side and observed by the geological (or forestry) instrument.

  41. DENNIS says

    Regarding your example of using “Secretary of Defense” anachronistically for the previous cabinet position of “Secretary of War”, it is in error. The latter position was ONLY in charge of the US ARMY (which then included the US Air Force) and was an equal to the Secretary of the Navy cabinet position. With the reorganization in 1947, the Air Force became independent and put under a non-cabinet Secretary of the Air Force, while the Secretary of War position was renamed Secretary of the Army and along with the Navy Secretary, demoted to non-cabinet status. All three service secretaries were made subservient to a NEW cabinet position of Secretary of Defense and the services were placed in what is now called the Department of Defense (originally named “National Military Establishment”). So Secretary Stimson in World War II was equivalent to today’s Army Secretary, albeit at a cabinet-level position.

  42. James says

    Excellent article. I have mentioned some to these men to others but have been by certain people that is not proof. And they consider them selves intelligent. Humph!!

  43. Pierre says

    Jesus was not crucified. Thousands of Jesus or man who called themselves ‘Christ son of God’, died on a “torture stake. It was very comon during that time. As you point out, it’s a MYTH ? According to Paul Diel, the last ‘real’ one created by humans.

  44. Robin says

    This was a very well-composed and thorough article. I am familiar with the names cited in the process of unpacking the subject. However, I still learned something in his discussion of the Testimonium Flavianum (sp). I appreciated also his footnotes and additionally the author’s response to Paul’s question above. Never really thought about the passage in 1 Samuel. Live and learn!!!.

  45. Robert says

    I appreciate your patient defense of your work; of course there are always different approaches to any endeavor. It seems odd that folk choose to ‘attack’ rather than just discuss. Also, I have noticed for a long time that moderns – including many scholars – make the mistake of ‘projecting’ current systems of thought and practice backwards into ancient times; not only were thinking patterns different anon, but social circumstances could differ to extremes.

    Some long time back I got into a bit of a dust-up with the Univ. Pa. Museum Sumerian section about Samuel Noah Kramer’s book, ‘History Begins at Sumer’. Overlooking Kramer’s statement that the ancients could not think ‘linearly’ because they lacked knowledge of the obvious modern scientific priniciple of EVOLUTION [yikes!], he outlined a broad understanding of the Sumerian pantheon, but admitted that they had not been able to translate one cosmological term – Mi, or Me – which seemed central to their cosmological theology… but given the total picture as analysed, it seemed irrelevant. I disagreed vehemently, and pointed out that anyone who thought that a concept of ‘evolution’ was essential to understanding the milieu in which the Sumerians lived would be unlikely to ever understand ‘Mi’.

    Jewish Rabbinical writings [admittedly from a later period] reveal the term adequately, which translates as ‘Who?’ Their essential text was Isaiah, 40:26 – Who hath created these? – mi bara eleh? They took Mi – Who? – as the Most High God and eleh as the material world; the material world being a refection of the Divine world, they reversed the words to ‘eleh-im’ or Elohim – the God of Genesis 1. Mi, WHO?, the vast unknowable Divine being, was the MOST HIGH GOD of creation.

    Projecting backwards [more logical in ancient times], what that -could- imply is that, at the root of the Sumerian pantheon, there was a belief in an overall Supreme Being – and THAT is what the untranslatable term ‘Mi’ might indicate. Not surprisingly, my suggestion made not the least impact on their thinking.

    The tragedy, to me, is that their thinking is so rooted in modern thought that I don’t think they could even consider such an idea as any other than radical nonsense. I suppose ‘Mi’ will remain a mystery to Sumerian scholars, because they cannot consider a belief in monotheism prior to the accepted norms.
    I point out to Christian friends that there was a reason that the Synagog was amazed when Jesus read from Isaiah; the Scriptures were not divided into words and verses; the lines could run on, and there were no ‘pointings’ to indicate vowel pronunications. For the ‘son of a carpenter’ – who did not have all those years of study on how to read Scripture – to pick up a scroll and start reading was astounding. Today, we can pick up a book and start reading, even if it is about nuclear physics. If that book had no separated words or sentences, no vowels, who could just pick it up and start reading?

    Today we presume universal education, but that is a very modern concept. It is catastrophic to interpret ancient thought in a modern context… and it is not easy to shed that bias.

  46. Lawrence says

    Reply to Warren (comment 36 above):
    Thank you for the link. Though I differ from Jehovah’s Witnesses on the question of Jesus in relation to God, we can heartily agree on the human existence of “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)! Yes!

  47. Lawrence says

    Reply to Joe (comment 37 above):
    Thank you for your very helpful observations. Yes, Jesus certainly disappointed the first-century messianic expectations of Jews in Palestine who were cruelly oppressed by Roman conquerors. He did not crush Rome, but rather, in his crucifixion, he was crushed _by_ Rome. This is the scandal of the crucifixion. Oddly enough, the fact that Jesus not only died, but suffered such an extremely disgraceful death, stands verified not only by the writings of Tacitus and Josephus—but even in the writings of his own followers.

    The extreme irony is that, from the very different point of view held by Jesus’ followers, his death provided precisely the way to a life-giving relationship with God. Even they, however, did not understand or accept this right away. When the fact of the crucifixion is given serious consideration, it is most remarkable that any Jews at all, let alone thousands (according to the book of Acts, chapters 2, 3, and 4), came to believe in him not long afterward.

  48. Lawrence says

    Reply to Gregory (comment 38 above; I will also reply to comment 39):
    You are certainly correct in stating that Josephus was a non-Christian Jew who “would not have called Jesus “Meshiach” or Messiah.” Further, I agree that, as you have stated, “This is a key criticism of the reliability and validity of the Testimonium Flavianum.” You have given precisely the reason why the overwhelming majority of scholars regard the Testimonium Flavianum, as it is best known, namely, in Greek, as having been altered by a Christian. But that is not the only alternative.

    The article above spells out the three alternatives as follows:

    Alternative 1 is that the whole passage is authentic, written by Josephus.
    Today almost no scholar accepts the authenticity of the entire standard Greek Testimonium Flavianum, because of obviously Christian statements, such as: “He was the Messiah.” Your objection clearly applies against Alternative 1.

    Alternative 2 is that the whole passage is a forgery, inserted into Jewish Antiquities.
    Translations of what Josephus wrote include some early versions that were apparently made from a Greek version that did not contain the Christian alteration. These translations all actually include quite a bit of the Testimonium Flavianum, but not Christian statements, such as, “He was the Messiah.” The fact that translations into at least three languages don’t sound particularly Christian, but sound much more like the non-Christian Josephus, is evidence in support of the view that what Josephus actually wrote is much like what is available in these translations:
    The Latin translation says Jesus “was believed to be the Messiah.”
    The Syriac translation is best translated, “He was thought to be the Messiah.”
    (Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, that developed from earlier Aramaic and came to be used extensively by the early church in the East.)
    And the Arabic translation, which appears in the writings of an Arab Christian bishop, suggests with open coyness, “He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”

    Alternative 3: It is only partly authentic, containing some material from Josephus, but also
    some later additions by another hand(s).
    Alternative 3, which is based largely on the evidence of the three translations mentioned under Alternative 2, has the support of the overwhelming majority of scholars. The translations clearly reveal that some Christian(s) altered the Testimonium Flavianum as it is most widely known, in Greek.

  49. Bill says

    To say the least, a thorough thesis. The points are well delineated and well taken. An excellent representation of the historical argument for the existence of Jesus, without the religious hype so common in such representations. Thank-you.

1 2 3 4

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Paul Revere News Sunday Edition: December 7th, 2014 | paulreverenews.com linked to this post on December 7, 2014

    […] Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible – Biblical Archaeology Society […]

  2. Did Jesus really exist? what Tacitus and Josephus said. | Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin linked to this post on December 8, 2014

    […] More seriously read this article  http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jes… […]

  3. Extrabiblical Evidence for a Historical Jesus — ExploringTheWell linked to this post on December 8, 2014

    […] History Daily recently published an article entitled Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible. It’s an interesting article, citing in particular two non-Christian sources as references […]

  4. Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible | فريق اللاهوت الدفاعي linked to this post on December 9, 2014

    […] 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 […]

  5. Historical Evidence that Jesus Christ Actually Existed | Legacy Academic Consulting linked to this post on December 18, 2014

    […] can read Mykytiuk’s whole article here, but based on reading and analysis of non-Christian sources, the following facts about Jesus can be […]

  6. Historical Evidence that Jesus Actually Existed | Legacy Academic Consulting linked to this post on December 18, 2014

    […] can read Mykytiuk’s whole article here, but based on reading and analysis of non-Christian sources, the following facts about Jesus can be […]

  7. The Thoughts of Many Hearts | Navigating by Faith linked to this post on December 19, 2014

    […] for insurrection.[60]” (Wikipedia) According to the Biblical Archeology Review article, Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence beyond the Bible, we have solid, reliable historical texts that reference Jesus of Nazareth who lived, and died and […]

  8. Forget Santa Claus. Was there a Jesus Christ? | SpokaneFAVS linked to this post on December 19, 2014

    […] far as we know, no ancient person ever seriously argued that Jesus did not exist,” Mykytiuk writes, and he cites pagan and Jewish writers of the time who did affirm Jesus’ […]

  9. How Do We Know Jesus Was a Real Person? | Teilhard de Chardin linked to this post on December 23, 2014

    […] far as we know, no ancient person ever seriously argued that Jesus did not exist,” Mykytiuk writes, and he cites pagan and Jewish writers of the time who did affirm Jesus’ […]

  10. Salon: “No proof that Jesus even existed”; Muhammad’s existence “established beyond the shadow of a doubt” - Dr. Rich Swier linked to this post on December 25, 2014

    […] think Tayler is somewhat overstating his case, but I welcome investigation of the existence of Christ and the reliability of the New Testament […]

  11. Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible : These Christian Times linked to this post on December 27, 2014

    […] 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 […]

  12. The Biblical Studies Carnival – December 2014 | Daniel N. Gullotta linked to this post on January 1, 2015

    […] Given the surge in interest in the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk (Purdue University) weighs in on the non-Biblical sources about Jesus for Bible History Daily, in his piece “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible.” […]

  13. Charlemagne Never Existed | VOP Blog linked to this post on January 5, 2015

    […] this, Ehrman is right.  As Lawrence Mykytiuk points out in the current edition of the Biblical Archeaological Review, the evidence for Jesus is conclusive.  […]

  14. Has the Childhood Home of Jesus Been Found? | Laodicean Report linked to this post on March 2, 2015

    […] childhood home of Jesus may have been found underneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent in Nazareth, Israel, according to […]

  15. Was Jesus A Myth? | Are You Ready… linked to this post on March 4, 2015

    […] Here is a link to an article at biblicalarchaeology.org, also known as Bible History Daily. Here Lawrence Mykytiuk lays out historical text of other writings at the time of Jesus in order to investigate to see if this type of evidence does in fact exist: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jes… […]

  16. What do ancient non-Christian sources tell us about the historical Jesus? | Wintery Knight linked to this post on March 5, 2015

    […] article from Biblical Archaeology covers all the non-Christian historical sources that discuss […]

  17. Those Links Tho « Theologians, Inc. linked to this post on March 8, 2015

    […] Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible: […]

  18. How Was Jesus’ Tomb Sealed: Examining the tomb of Jesus in light of Second Temple-period Jerusalem tombs : These Christian Times linked to this post on March 11, 2015

    […] (cork-shaped) stone? While both kinds of blocking stones are attested in Jerusalem tombs from the time of Jesus, square (cork-shaped) stones are much, much more common than round (disk-shaped) […]

  19. Was History Invited to the Party? | Sam Matteson linked to this post on March 29, 2015

    […] or the Christ (Christos in Greek). I found both fascinating and accessible an article written by Lawrence Mykytiuk in Biblical Archaeology Review1 dealing with extra-Biblical historical evidence for the existence of this remarkable […]

  20. A Look at the Evidence for the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus | THINKAPOLOGETICS.COM linked to this post on March 31, 2015

    […] Josephus and Tacitus and some other outside sources speak of the death of Jesus. […]

  21. Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder? | Hear what the Spirit is saying linked to this post on April 3, 2015

    […] people assume that Jesus’ Last Supper was a Seder, a ritual meal held in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover. And […]

  22. Latest Show: LFR Show 28 | LikeFlint Radio linked to this post on April 20, 2015

    […] Article:  “Did Jesus Exist” –  Biblical Archaeology Review […]

  23. The Quotable Josephus » Peter Kirby linked to this post on May 2, 2015

    […] BAR article used an image of Codex Parisinus gr. 2075, 45v (one of the very many such manuscripts described […]

  24. -Was Jesus a real Person? Historical Evidence Beyond the Bible | APOLOGETICA linked to this post on May 22, 2015

    […] “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” by Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk of Purdue University […]

  25. -Was Jesus a Real Person? Historical Evidence Beyond the Bible | ANSWERS For The Faith linked to this post on May 22, 2015

    […] “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” by Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk of Purdue University […]

  26. From Jesus to Us: A Look at P.O.W.E.R. | THINKAPOLOGETICS.COM linked to this post on June 9, 2015

    […] Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible […]

  27. [INTJ] Religion(s) - Page 3 linked to this post on July 4, 2015

    […] parts of the historical account of his life. There is a good overview of those sources here: Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible – Biblical Archaeology Society Here is a man who was a cold case homicide detective who decided to tackle the Resurrection as […]

  28. GLOSSOLALIA & Speaking in Tongues in the Bible #BiblicalArchaeologyReview #BenWitheringtonIII | ChurchHealth.wiki linked to this post on July 14, 2015

    […] 2 describes a miracle: During the festival of Pentecost, Jesus’ disciples are given the Holy Spirit, and they begin speaking in tongues (other languages). Are […]

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