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The Historicity of Jesus Christ

Is there corroborative evidence outside of the Bible itself that Jesus Christ actually existed? The answer is yes. Historians and others, both favorable and unfavorable, have written about Jesus Christ and the early Christians. The following are but some of the writings found in ancient, non-biblical sources.

Thallus, a Roman historian, gives the earliest possible reference for Jesus, from approximately AD 55. He’s quoted in his lost three-part history of the Mediterranean, mentioning an eclipse around the date of the crucifixion which could be the darkness that fell the day Jesus died (Matthew 27:45). His writings are only found as citations by others. Julius Africanus, when writing, about AD 221, of the crucifixion, mentions Thallus:

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.

Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. AD 55-117), considered the greatest historian of ancient Rome, writes in his Annals of the fire in Rome of July AD 64, for which Nero affixed blame to the Christians:

Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.

Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.  The Annals, XV 44

This ancient writing makes reference to the origin of Christianity, attesting to the execution of Christ under Pontius Pilate.

Pliny the Younger (AD 61-112) was a Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor and an intellectual famed for his letters which were turned into ten popular books. In his tenth book is a letter he wrote to Emperor Trajan asking for advice concerning the trials of accused Christians, because great multitudes of every age, class, and sex stood accused.

I asked them whether they were Christians or not. If they confessed that they were Christians, I asked them again, and a third time, intermixing threatenings with the questions. If they persevered in their confession, I ordered them to be executed; for I did not doubt but, let their confession be of any sort whatsoever, this positiveness and inflexible obstinacy deserved to be punished …

However, they assured me that the main of their fault, or of their mistake was this–that they were wont, on a stated day, to meet together before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ, as to a god, alternately; and to oblige themselves by a sacrament [or oath], not to do anything that was ill: but that they would commit no theft, or pilfering, or adultery…

These examinations made me think it necessary to inquire by torments what the truth was; which I did of two servant maids, who were called Deaconesses: but still I discovered no more than that they were addicted to a bad and to an extravagant superstition.

This letter attests to the rapid spread of Christianity and people of all classes worshipping Christ as God, who were not easily moved under persecution.

Flavius Josephus (AD 37–100), a Jewish historian, is one of the most important writers of antiquity. He wrote:

And so he convened the judges of the Sanhedrin, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the one called Christ, whose name was James, and certain others, and accusing them of having transgressed the law delivered them up to be stoned. (Antiquities, Book 20, Ch. 9, Par. 1)

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by  men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.   (Antiquities, Book 18, Ch. 3)

Lucian, a second century Romano-Syrian satirist, wrote of the early Christians as follows:

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.

The Jewish Talmud:

Though rejecting Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the hostile and erroneous mention of Him in the Jewish Talmud nevertheless confirms His historicity.

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a

These are but some of the historical accounts that exist. According to Edwin Yamauchi, a leading expert in ancient history, there is better historical documentation for Jesus than for the founder of any other ancient religion.

It is interesting that people do not doubt that Socrates ever existed, despite the lack of historical evidence. Were it not that a few of his students or associates wrote of him, likely none of us would know of such a figure in history.

Let the skeptics of this untoward generation hurl their mockeries if they will, but let it be known that soon, and very soon they will be bowing their knees and making fervent prayer to the Jesus Christ of the Bible when He appears in the sky in flaming fire to take vengeance on all them that know not God and obey not His gospel.

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