posted on Sep, 12 2008 @ 12:36 PM
What can we say about the history of Jesus? Is it reasonable to conclude that Jesus never existed, based on the weight of all the historical evidence?
Or is it more reasonable to conclude that Jesus was an unparalleled historical figure; that not only was he a great teacher and "doer of wonderful
works", but that something extraordinary - perhaps even supernatural - happened in history to spark a movement that "turned the world upside down".
Christianity presents a founder who is unmatched in history - one who really lived, taught unlike any other, performed miracles that testified of His
authority, really died, and really rose from the dead to be seen by literally hundreds before His ascension.
Either He existed, and was who He claimed to be - Lord and Savior; or not. If He did exist, fulfill prophecy, perform miracles, die in our place, and
rise again, then you, I -- we all -- have to deal with the ramifications of this.
Consider the written historical evidence of Jesus from these varied sources ...
1. Non-Christian, non-Jewish sources (principally Roman, Greek). These consist of the writings of a number of Greek or Roman historians, and refer to
the history of Jesus because of the trouble the Christian movement was causing in the empire at the time. The records are normally antagonistic, since
they have nothing to gain by admitting the historicity of the events.
2. Jewish sources - Josephus, the Talmud. Josephus, a Jewish aristocrat turned politician, was recruited by the Romans during the first Jewish revolt
to act as a mediator and write a historical record of events at the time. He records that Jesus was a wise man that did many wonderful works, and that
many people - both Jews and Gentiles - followed after him. The Talmud, written by Jewish sources at the time, is (not surprisingly) unfriendly toward
the founder of Christianity. The important point, however, is that Jewish sources do not deny that Jesus was a real historical figure -- they only
promote a different interpretation of of his conception.
3. Christian sources - the Gospels, early church fathers and historians. The four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - are judged by most scholars
to be reliable, historical testimony of eye-witnesses. These gospels, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Paul and the other Apostles,
are judged to have been written from 40 A.D. to 100 A.D. -- all within a few decades of the life of Jesus. The early church fathers were the leaders
and teachers in the church who followed the apostles - many were also disciples of these same apostles.
Non-Christian, Non-Jewish Historians Comment on the History of Jesus
Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 55-120)
A Roman historian who lived through the reign of over a half-dozen Roman emperors1, Tacitus has been called "the greatest historian of ancient Rome.
His most famous works are the Annals and the Histories. The Annals covers from 14 A.D. to approximately 68 A.D. (the death of Augustus up to the time
of Nero), while Histories proceeds from 68 A.D. (Nero's death) to 96 A.D. (the time of Domitian).
Here is what Tacitus wrote concerning the history of Jesus, and the existence of Christians in Rome:
"But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the price could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented
to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the
rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for
their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the
pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome
also." (Annals XV, 44)1.
Some points to note about the narrative from Tacitus:
He mistakenly refers to Jesus as "Christus", however this was a common practice among the pagan writers at that time.
He supports the fact that Christ existed, and was put to death by Pontius Pilate - agreeing with the Christian scriptures.
He alludes to "the pernicious superstition" which broke out, was repressed, but then spread even more - even throughout the city of Rome itself.
This may indeed be referring to the core belief which caused the early church to explode and "turn the world upside down" -- that Jesus had died
indeed, but that He had also risen from the grave.
Thallus, a Samaritan-born historian who lived and worked in Rome about 52 A.D., wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world (Habernas, VECELJ,
93). Although the original writings of Thallus are lost to us, Julius Africanus, a Christian historian of the late second century (2221 A,D.), was
familiar with them and quotes from them. One very interesting passage from Thallus relates to the darkness that enveloped the land at the time of
Christ's crucifixion. Julius Africanus writes as follows:
"Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as as an eclipse of the sun - unreasonably, as it seems to me
(unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon
that Christ died." (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18.1)
Points to note:
This quote testifies that the gospel accounts of darkness falling upon the land about the time of Christ's death were well known, and thus required a
naturalistic explanation from non-Christians.
Thallus did not dispute that Jesus has been crucified -- he was more concerned with coming up with another explanation for the darkness that enveloped
How many more references do you need? If you need more, then I would refer to this passage in Luke 9, of Jesus' instructions to His Apostles: "Take
nothing for your journey--neither staffs, nor wallet, nor bread, nor money; neither have two coats apiece. Into whatever house you enter, stay there,
and depart from there. As many as don't receive you, when you depart from that city, shake off even the dust from your feet for a testimony against