Proof of Jesus from outside the Bible

People of faith accept the teachings of Jesus as told in the Bible as fact. It may come as a surprise to some that critics of the Bible and Christianity dispute the fact Jesus was even a real person. These critics will tell you Jesus is not mentioned by any early historians. Because of this, they claim Jesus was not a real person and was created centuries later, nothing more than a fictional character to support a fictional belief system. These critics dismiss the Bible authors as unreliable and argue it is circular reasoning to use the Bible to prove the Bible. Are these critics correct? Did early historians ignore Jesus because He never lived? Is it right to dismiss the Bible as an historical document? The facts are, these critics ignore a great many facts, and outright deceive people by saying there are no historical records of Jesus outside of the Bible. There are in fact, many.
While we have several external mentions of Jesus, let us begin with the Bible. The word 'Bible' comes from the Latin word biblia, which means little books. The modern Bible is seen as a single book which is why critics cry foul when one section of the Bible is used to support another. The Bible is in fact a collection of smaller books that have been brought into a single collection. The original books of the New Testament were written by eight individual authors over a period of several decades. If these had not been brought together as a collection, it is possible they would be viewed differently by critics. Given how these critics ignore other historical evidence, this is doubtful.
If you believe the critics, there are no historical documents outside of the Bible that mention Jesus. This is completely untrue. 

We will look at several of these from a number of different sources. The first is perhaps the most impressive. Tacitus was a first century Roman historian. Most scholars consider Tacticus as one of the greatest and most important of the Roman historians. While Tacticus was certainly not a Christian and had no interest in confirming Jesus was an actual person, his writings do just that. In recording events concerning Nero, Tacticus mentions Jesus and Christianity when telling the back story for what he is reporting.

Nero fastened the guilt...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...Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, this checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome...  (Tacticus)

Tacticus gives us confirmation of Jesus (Christus), the method of His execution, and even who ordered the execution. Tacticus was obviously no fan of Jesus or His followers, but he did not deny they existed. In fact, he helps to confirm historical details from the Bible. Tacticus lived from 56 A.D. to 120 A.D. so the events he was recording were well known to many of his time.

The second example we will examine is from Pliny the Younger who was a lawyer, author and Magistrate. He also lived in the first century which eliminates the possibility that Jesus was a legend created in either the third or fourth century. As with several of the non-biblical sources, Pliny the Younger was no fan of Jesus or His followers. In this letter he is writing to a friend asking for advice and legal guidance concerning the Christians. To explain his situation, Pliny the Younger gives a number of details about the group causing him difficulty.

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which is was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food - but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. (Pliny the Younger)

Next we will see the words of Josephus who was a first century Jewish historian. Josephus was a Roman sympathizer and betrayed his fellow Jews during the siege of Jerusalem. There is some debate over the possibility Josephus' works were edited by later Christians. While some edited is possible, most scholars agree to the following elements as having been written by Josephus, who was certainly no Christian.

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he...wrought surprising feats...He was the Christ. When Pilate...condemned him to be crucified, those who had... come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared...restored to life...and the tribe of Christians... has...not disappeared. (Josephus)

The Jewish leaders had Jesus put to death, so any mention of Jesus by these leaders must be given some merit. In the Babylonian Talmud, which is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, it mentions Yeshu, which traditionally is assumed to be a reference to Jesus.

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald...cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. (Babylonian Talmud)

In this reference they confirm Jesus was crucified, hung on a cross, and as shown in other writings, they admit Jesus performed miracles but they attributed them to sorcery or black magic.

The next reference comes from Lucian, a Greek writer who is best known for his criticism of superstition and religious practices which he often poked fun at. While clearly not a follower of Jesus or a man a faith, Lucian does give a strong reference, all be it a negative one, of Jesus being an actual first century man and gives us several historical details that confirm the Biblical texts.

The Christians...worship a man to this day - the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account... [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. (Lucian)

Thallus was a Greek historian who wrote in Koine Greek. While the works of Thallus have not survived, they are referenced in other works, such as those by Julius Africanus, a Christina scholar. In his works, Africanus referenced a report by Thallus when he was attempting to dismiss the darkness which fell upon the earth when Jesus was crucified. He does not say the darkness did not happen, he simply tries to explain it was caused by natural events. (We know that at the time of Jesus' crucifixion a lunar eclipse was not possible.)

"On the whole world there was 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." (Julius Africanus)

Ignatius, writing in the early second century, was a follower of Jesus and a man of faith. While his writings will be considered biased by critics, the fact he records these facts in the early second century disputes claims Jesus was a fabrication of Christian writers centuries later. 

Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His father having raised Him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe in Him. (Ignatius)

 We will now look at two other entries on our list. These are from Jewish sources who obviously had no interest at all in creating or embellishing any fictional account of Jesus. In these two examples, the writers admit Jesus lived and did great works (miracles) even though they do not attribute His powers to come from God, but from sorcery. 

 Jesus practiced magic and lead Israel astray (Sanhedrin 43a;cf.t. Shabbat 11.15;b. Shabbat 104b)

The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore, brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed. Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest...Yeshu spoke up: "Madam, I am the Messiah and I revive the dead." A dead body was brought in; he pronounced the letters of the Ineffable Name and the corpse came to life. The Queen was greatly moved and said: 'This is a true sign.' ... the Sages came before the Queen, complaining that Yeshu practiced sorcery and was leading everyone astray...He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of clay and they flew into the air. He spoke the same letters over a milestone that had been placed upon the waters. He sat in it and it floated like a boat. When they saw this the people marveled. (The Toledot Yesha)

 Our last example we will list here is from Mara bar Serapion, who was a Stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria. This writing, from approximately 70 A.D., he writes about various leaders who had been put to death to stop an uprising or unwanted following. In his list of leaders who were wrongfully put to death, he mentions the Jews who killed their wise king. This reference is to Jesus who when crucified had the sign posted over Him, "Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews."

What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plaque came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?...After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men...The wise king...lived on in the teachings he enacted. (Mara Bar Serapion)

Here we have ten examples of writings which directly mention Jesus or His followers. These writings confirm Jesus was an actual living person who existed during the first century, not a fictious person created centuries later. While many critics of the Bible still falsely claim there are no historical records of Jesus, most in the scholarly world now admit Jesus was in fact a real person who lived in Israel at the time recorded in the Bible.  While these writings are not scripture, they help to prove the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. 

Some Christians will say this type of evidence is not needed, that we should have faith in Jesus and His holy word, the Bible. While this is true, to a degree, the Bible also tells us to be ready to defend our faith with a logical argument to those who would challenge the truth. This evidence is just one tool which can be used to mount a defense of our faith in Jesus.

"But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully." 2 Peter 3:15


Bible Archaeology

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