Who Says Jesus Existed?

Flavius JosephusOne of the more popular accusations brought against Biblical Christianity is that there are no external sources that confirm the Biblical record of Jesus of Nazareth. Most simply deny the accuracy of the New Testament in details of the life of Jesus, but others boldly deny that He existed at all. Either way, the accusation is based on a supposed lack of written historical evidence outside of the Bible referring to the existence of Jesus.

However, there are numerous sources that yield historical confirmation of the Biblical record, such as in the field of archeology. The fact is, whether it is simply the result of misinformation or plain ignorance of the facts, denying that there are extra-biblical sources that confirm the existence of Jesus simply has no credible basis. But, far be it from me to make such a claim without giving any supporting information.

The question is, are there sources outside of the Bible that give historical evidence of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth? The answer is a resounding yes. There are actually twelve known non-Christian sources consisting of historians, government officials and documents that give historical accounts of Jesus. The following is a list of those sources:Cornelius Tacitus

  1. Cornelius Tacitus
  2. Suetonius
  3. Flavius Josephus
  4. Thallus
  5. Pliny the Younger
  6. Trajan
  7. Hadrian
  8. the Babylonian Talmud
  9. Toledoth Jesu
  10. Lucian
  11. Mara Bar-Serapion
  12. Phlegon.

I would like to discuss what each of these sources have to say, but for sake of time and attention span I will save that for the next post. For now, suffice it to say that what this non-Christian evidence suggests about the existence of Jesus may be summarized as follows:

  • Every witness confirms that a man named Jesus actually existed, most by statement, only two by inference.
  • Two witnesses explicitly state that Jesus was considered a virtuous man.
  • Six of the witnesses explicitly state that Jesus was worshiped by His followers.
  • Seven of the witnesses explicitly state that Jesus had life long disciples that took preeminence as leaders of His other followers (Apostles, perhaps).
  • Four of the witnesses explicitly state that Jesus was a renowned teacher.
  • Seven of the witnesses refer to the fact that Jesus was crucified. Only one of those seven were by inference.
  • Seven of the witnesses refer to the discovery of an empty tomb. Three of those are very specific.
  • Two of the witnesses explicitly refer to Jesus’ followers’ belief in His resurrection.
  • Six of the witnesses explicitly refer to the rapid spread of Christian belief.
  • Seven of the witnesses explicitly refer to the persecution that Jesus’ followers faced because of their belief.

All twelve of these witnesses do nothing but confirm the Biblical record of Jesus and His followers.

So why are these twelve so important? To appreciate their importance more fully, three things must be understood about these sources.

The Time Span

First, they are all confirmed to be within 150 years of the ministry of Jesus, some living during same time as Jesus. Though 150 years may seem like a long time for us, we can put things into perspective by comparing how people wrote of other progenitors of various religions after the religion took hold.

Although the Gathas of Zoroaster have been authenticated to date back to 1200 BC, most of the Zoroastrian scriptures were not put into writing until after the third century AD. That’s a span of over 1,500 years. The first biography written about Zoroaster was written in AD 1278. That’s a span of over 2,200 years.

Buddha is believed to have lived in the sixth century BC. However, the Buddhist scriptures were not put into writing until after Christianity took hold as a religion. That’s a span of about 800 years. The first biography of Buddha was written in the first century AD. That’s another span of about 800 years.

We have the sayings of Muhammad in the Koran, but his first biography was not written until a full century later.

By comparison, all of the New Testament was completed in less than 70 years after the life of Jesus. As for these extra-biblical sources, Thallus wrote of Jesus within 20 years of His crucifixion. The very latest of the twelve sources, Mara Bar-Serapion, stretches the time period to within 150 years.

The Number of Sources

Also, we are prone to look at twelve sources as being a small number to confirm someone that has had as much influence as Jesus. Surely, more would have been written outside of the Biblical record, or so it seems. However, we must compare the fact that Tiberius Caesar, the Roman Emperor of Jesus’ day, is only mentioned in nine other places outside of the Bible within 150 years of his lifetime. Those who assume that there is not enough if any historical evidence for the existence of Jesus must also write off the Emperor of Rome to be a myth as well! The truth is, this Jewish Teacher and His followers got more coverage than the Emperor.

The Nature of the Sources

The next thing to understand about the twelve sources is that their record is secular in nature, and that they are all markedly anti-Christian. In the field of law enforcement, a good witness is priceless. There are, however, types of witnesses whose testimony is more telling than others. For example, there are “friendly” witnesses who are likely to be partial to the one on trial. These, of course, are not very valuable. Then, there are “impartial” witnesses. These are strong witnesses because they have no incentive to help out or hurt the one on trial. Finally, there are “hostile witnesses. These are evidently opposed to the defendant. If a hostile witness admits to any good about the accused or testify to the viability of the defendant’s story, this will carry the most weight with any jury.

All of the twelve sources, falling under the “hostile” category, offer a most valuable testimony. The wealth of historical corroboration is undeniable.

I’d like to make a couple of final points in closing. It is obvious from both this evidence and other later writings on the subject that not even Jesus’ enemies thought to challenge His historicity until centuries after His death. The fact is, with these twelve non-Christian sources confirming His existence we cannot make that challenge either.

Obviously, there are no references to the miraculous events spoken of in the New Testament other than the Christians’ belief in them. But, you could not honestly expect that from hostile witnesses. Nevertheless, the fact that these non-Christian sources only confirm the basic outline of the life of Jesus and the acts of His followers as presented by the New Testament gives credible evidence as to the reliability of the Biblical record. It only follows that this evidences gives a sound basis for trusting the One to whom these twelve witnesses point.

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8 comments so far

  1. […] by pastoralmusings under apologetics | Tags: apologetics, historical Jesus, Jesus |   Read it here. […]

  2. weldon lamb on

    Mr Garofalo:

    For a class on early Christianity, I would very much appreciate your latest post, after 2 July 2008, about the twelve Roman sources for the historicity of Jesus, or directions to the relevant texts for Thallus, Celsus, Lucian, Porphyry, the babylonian Talmud, the Toledoth Jesu, Mara ben-Serapion and Phlegon; for the others I have the passages.

    Thanks.

    Weldon Lamb

  3. Damien T Garofalo on

    thank you sir. you may use whatever you like from the post. just understand that this is one of the posts my friend TJ wrote when he was on this blog. I would hate to take credit from him.

  4. Rus on

    Could I have your permission to repost this on my blog – linking back to your BLOG as the source?

    • Damien T Garofalo on

      sure thing. (if you could include the author as “Travis”, since he wrote this post, not me (he used to contribute). thanks.

  5. Laura on

    Hello,
    I´m interested in using this image of Tacitus in a school essay. Do you have the rights of it and would you allow me to use it?
    Thank you,

    Laura

  6. binky on

    Folks:

    I think that pic is based on a statue of the EMPEROR Tacitus (AD 274-5), not Cornelius Tacitus the Roman historian.

    http://www.roman-emperors.org/tacitus.htm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus

    Cheers,

    Binks, WebElf
    FreeMarkSteyn.com


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