This is a review of the so called historical proof of Jesus.
"Josephus (c37 - 100 AD)
Flavius Josephus is a highly respected and much-quoted Romano-Jewish historian. The early Christians were zealous readers of his work.
A native of Judea, living in the 1st century A.D., Josephus was actually governor of Galilee for a time (prior to the war of 70 A.D.) – the very
province in which Jesus allegedly did his wonders. Though not born until 37 AD. and therefore not a contemporary witness to any Jesus-character,
Josephus at one point even lived in Cana, the very city in which Christ is said to have wrought his first miracle.
Josephus's two major tomes are History of The Jewish War and The Antiquities of the Jews. In these complementary works, the former written in the
70s, the latter in the 90s A.D., Josephus mentions every noted personage of Palestine and describes every important event which occurred there during
the first seventy years of the Christian era.
At face value, Josephus appears to be the answer to the Christian apologist's dreams.
In a single paragraph (the so-called Testimonium Flavianum ) Josephus confirms every salient aspect of the christ-myth:
1. Jesus's existence 2. his 'more than human' status 3. his miracle working 4. his teaching 5. his ministry among the Jews and the Gentiles 6. his
Messiahship 7. his condemnation by the Jewish priests 8. his sentence by Pilate 9. his death on the cross 10. the devotion of his followers 11. his
resurrection on the 3rd day 12. his post-death appearance 13. his fulfillment of divine prophesy 14. the successful continuance of the Christians.
In just 127 words Josephus confirms everything – now that is a miracle!
BUT WAIT A MINUTE...
Not a single writer before the 4th century – not Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, etc. – in all their defences
against pagan hostility, makes a single reference to Josephus’ wondrous words.
The third century Church 'Father' Origen, for example, spent half his life and a quarter of a million words contending against the pagan writer
Celsus. Origen drew on all sorts of proofs and witnesses to his arguments in his fierce defence of Christianity. He quotes from Josephus extensively.
Yet even he makes no reference to this 'golden paragraph' from Josephus, which would have been the ultimate rebuttal. In fact, Origen actually said
that Josephus was "not believing in Jesus as the Christ."
Origen did not quote the 'golden paragraph' because this paragraph had not yet been written.
It was absent from early copies of the works of Josephus and did not appear in Origen's third century version of Josephus, referenced in his Contra
Consider, also, the anomalies:
1. How could Josephus claim that Jesus had been the answer to his messianic hopes yet remain an orthodox Jew?
The absurdity forces some apologists to make the ridiculous claim that Josephus was a closet Christian!
2. If Josephus really thought Jesus had been 'the Christ' surely he would have added more about him than one paragraph, a casual aside in someone
else's (Pilate's) story?
In fact, Josephus relates much more about John the Baptist than about Jesus! He also reports in great detail the antics of other self-proclaimed
messiahs, including Judas of Galilee, Theudas the Magician, and the unnamed 'Egyptian Jew' messiah.
It is striking that though Josephus confirms everything the Christians could wish for, he adds nothing not in the gospel narratives, nothing that
would have been unknown by Christians already.
3. The passage is out of context. Book 18 starts with the Roman taxation under Cyrenius in 6 AD, talks about various Jewish sects at the time,
including the Essenes, and a sect of Judas the Galilean. He discusses Herod's building of various cities, the succession of priests and procurators,
and so on.
Chapter 3 starts with a sedition against Pilate who planned to slaughter all the Jews but changed his mind. Pilate then used sacred money to supply
water to Jerusalem, and the Jews protested. Pilate sent spies among the Jews with concealed weapons, and there was a great massacre.
Then comes the paragraph about Jesus, and immediately after it, Josephus continues:
'And about the same time another terrible misfortune confounded the Jews . . .'
Josephus, an orthodox Jew, would not have thought the Christian story to be 'another terrible misfortune.' It is only a Christian who would have
considered this to be a Jewish tragedy.
Paragraph 3 can be lifted out of the text with no damage to the chapter. It flows better without it. Outside of this tiny paragraph, in all of
Josephus's voluminous works, there is not a single reference to Christianity anywhere.
4. The phrase 'to this day' confirms that this is a later interpolation. There was no 'tribe of Christians' during Josephus's time. Christianity
did not get off the ground until the second century.
5. The hyperbolic language is uncharacteristic of the historian:
'. . . as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him . . .'
This is the stuff of Christian propaganda.
In fact, the Josephus paragraph about Jesus does not appear until the beginning of the fourth century, at the time of Constantine.
Bishop Eusebius, that great Church propagandist and self-confessed liar-for-god, was the first person known to have quoted this paragraph of Josephus,
about the year 340 AD. This was after the Christians had become the custodians of religious correctness.
Whole libraries of antiquity where torched by the Christians. Yet unlike the works of his Jewish contemporaries, the histories of Josephus survived.
They survived because the Christian censors had a use for them. They planted evidence on Josephus, turning the leading Jewish historian of his day
into a witness for Jesus Christ ! Finding no references to Jesus anywhere in Josephus's genuine work, they interpolated a brief but all-embracing
reference based purely on Christian belief.
Do we need to look any further to identify Eusebius himself as the forger?
Sanctioned by the imperial propagandist every Christian commentator for the next thirteen centuries accepted unquestioningly the entire Testimonium
Flavianum, along with its declaration that Jesus “was the Messiah.”
And even in the twenty first century scholars who should know better trot out a truncated version of the 'golden paragraph' in a scurrilous attempt
to keep Josephus 'on message.'
Christian apologists, for their own convenience, blur the distinction between evidence of Jesus and evidence of Christians. It is rather as if a child
who believed in the Tooth Fairy were to be presented as evidence that the Tooth Fairy really existed.
Justus of Tiberias
'I have read the chronology of Justus of Tiberias... and being under the Jewish prejudices, as indeed he was himself also a Jew by birth, he makes
not one mention of Jesus, of what happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did.'
– Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, 9th Century
Justus was also an historian, a rival to Josephus, and from the same region. Perhaps his work was not as easily doctored – his histories did not make
it through the Christian dark age and are – as they say! – 'lost to us'.
The Usual Suspects:
There is no doubt that Christians existed, from the early years of the second century certainly, and – as heretical Jews and under diverse names – up
to a generation earlier. Belief in a Messiah (a 'Christ' in Greek) was endemic among the Jews after all.
But belief in a celestial Christ does not equate to belief in a flesh-and-blood 'Jesus of Nazareth' – and when the 'heretical' and 'gnostic'
views of early Christians are examined 'Jesus of Nazareth' is noticeably absent. And to press the point, even a belief in a 'Jesus of Nazareth'
does not make him a reality – it is only the belief that is a reality.
None abashed, Christian apologists compound their suspect 'logic' by recruiting notable pagans as witnesses, writers who were doing their best to
faithfully report on a suspect cult. And as ever in the history of Christianity, in the hands of its scribes, forgery augments what the ancient
writers actually wrote, the better to bring unbelievers to the One True Faith.
Pliny the Younger (61 - 105 AD)
Around 112 AD, in correspondence between Emperor Trajan and the provincial governor of Pontus/Bithynia, Pliny the Younger, reference is made to
Christians for the first time. Pliny famously reports to his emperor:
'Christians ... asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day
before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or
adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. '
(Pliny to Trajan, Letters 10.96-97)
Note that Pliny is relaying what those arrested said they believed (and there is no reference here to a 'Jesus.')
Pliny had convened trials of Christians, not because of their beliefs but because he had ' forbidden political associations' which he obviously
suspected them of forming. He continues:
'Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I
discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.'
Some of those arrested recanted, worshipped the imperial image and state gods, and cursed Christ. But Pliny is uncertain how to proceed with numerous
others in what he describes as a widespread 'contagion' and asks Trajan for guidance. Trajan's celebrated reply is:
' They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he
is a Christian and really proves it -- that is, by worshiping our gods -- even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through
The real value of this correspondence (the only example of its kind to survive the Christian dark age) is not that it is some 'proof' of Jesus's
existence (which it manifestly is not) but evidence of the toleration of Roman jurisprudence in the 'golden age' of the Empire. Says Trajan:
'But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with
the spirit of our age.' (Trajan to Pliny, Letters 10.96-97)
Compare this ruling of the 'pagan' Trajan in 113 AD with that of the Christian Inquisitors thirteen centuries later – for whom 'anonymous
accusations' and 'seeking out' of heretics was the modus operandi !
Caius Suetonius (c.69 – 140 AD)
Nowhere in any of Suetonius's writings does he mention 'Jesus of Nazareth.'
Suetonius did write a biography called Twelve Caesars around the year 112 AD and of Emperor Claudius he says:
'As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.'
Jesus in Rome in 55 AD? Of course not. But the unwary can be misled by this reference.
'Chrestus' does not equate to 'Christ' in English but to 'The Good' in Greek, It was a name used by both slaves and freemen and is attested more
than eighty times in Latin inscriptions. Clearly, Suetonius was explaining why the Jews (not Christians) were expelled from Rome and is referring to a
Jewish agitator in the 50s – not to a Galilean pacifist of the 30s.
It is also said that Suetonius, in his Life of Nero, described Nero's persecution of the Christians:
'Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief. . .' (16.2)
We have moved from 'rebellious Jews' to 'mischievous Christians'.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE:
Christians in Rome during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD) ?
Would (could) Nero have made such a fine sectarian distinction – particularly since there was no identifying faith document (not a single gospel had
been written) – so just what would 'Christians' have believed? Even St Paul himself makes not a single reference to 'Christians' in any of his
The idea that a nascent ‘Christianity’ immediately faced persecution from a cruel and bloodthirsty pagan Rome is an utter nonsense. For one thing, it
is only in the last third of the 1st century C.E., that Christ-followers emerged as a separate faction from mainstream Judaism. Until then they
remained protected under Roman law as Jews. The irritation they caused to their more orthodox brethren meant nothing to the pagan magistrates. Says
‘The innocence of the first Christians was protected by ignorance and contempt; and the tribunal of the Pagan magistrate often proved the most assured
refuge against the fury of the synagogue.’
Early christ-followers called themselves 'saints', 'brethren', 'Brothers of the Lord' and their critics used various names: Nazoreans,
Ebionites, 'god fearers', atheists. The Jewish association remained strong throughout the first century and when Christian sects got going in Rome
in the second century they were identified by their rival leaders – Valentinians, Basilidians, Marcionites, etc.
So little were christ-worshippers known in the Roman world that as late as the 90s Dio Cassio refers to 'atheists' and 'those adopting Jewish
manners'. Christians as a distinct group from the Jews appear only late in the 1st century, not long before the Jewish curse on heretics at the
council of Jamnia (around 85 C.E.). The label 'Christian' itself only appears with the 2nd century Acts – with the story that the term 'began in
Equally odd, is that Suetonius's isolated sentence appears in a section on Nero's 'good points.'
It should also be noted that Suetonius does not associate punishment of the Christians with the fire that swept Rome, a crucial part of the later
Quite simply, the reference is a Christian forgery, added to Suetonius to backup the work of the 5th century forger Sulpicius Severus, who heavily
doctored the work of another Roman historian – Tacitus – with a lurid tale of brutal persecution ('torched Christian martyrs') which immortalized
Nero as the first Antichrist in the eyes of the Christian church. (The second Antichrist being the reformist Luther.)
Cornelius Tacitus (c.55 - 117 AD)
Christianity has no part in Tacitus's history of the Caesars. Except for one questionable reference in the Annals he records nothing of a cult
marginal even in his own day.
Sometime after 117 AD, the Roman historian apparently wrote:
"Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated for their crimes. This was the sect
known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the
abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the
great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on
their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race."
(Book 15, chapter 44):
As we have seen, the term 'Christian' was not in use during the reign of Nero and there would not have been 'a great crowd' unless we are speaking
of Jews, not Christians. 'Jewish/Christians' – being perceived by Roman authorities (and the populace at large) simply as Jews meant that early
Christ-followers also got caught up in general attacks upon the Jews.
‘Their effects to dissemble their Jewish origins were detected by the decisive test of circumcision; nor were the Roman magistrates at leisure to
enquire into the difference of their religious tenets.’
(Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall)
One consequence of the fire which destroyed much of Rome in 66 C.E. was a capitation tax levied on the Jews and it was the Jews – throughout the
empire – who were required to pay for the city’s rebuilding – a factor which helped to radicalise many Jews in the late 60s A.D.
Not for the first time would Christian scribes expropriated the real suffering of a whole people to create an heroic 'origins' fable...
No Christian apologist for centuries ever quoted the passage of Tacitus – not in fact, until it had appeared almost word-for-word in the writings of
Sulpicius Severus, in the early fifth century, where it is mixed in with other myths. Sulpicius's contemporaries credited him with a skill in the
'antique' hand. He put it to good use and fantasy was his forte: his Life of St. Martin is replete with numerous 'miracles', including raising of
the dead and personal appearances by Jesus and Satan.
His dastardly story of Nero was embellished during the renaissance into a fantastic fable with Nero 'fiddling while Rome burned'. Nero took
advantage of the destruction to build his 'Golden House' though no serious scholar believes anymore that he started the fire (we now know Nero was
in his hometown of Antium – Anzio – when the blaze started.) Indeed, Nero opened his palace garden for temporary shelter to those made homeless.
In short, the passage in Tacitus is a fraud and adds no evidence for a historic Jesus."