Extra-Biblical Evidence for the Historical Jesus.



Josephus Flavius (95 AD).

Perhaps the earliest non-Biblical account of Jesus comes from the 1st century historian Josephus Flavius. The Gospel of John, our latest Gospel coming in at +- 60 years after Jesus death (30 AD) comes very close to Flavius’ account. Nevertheless, this great Jewish writer from the 1st century attests to an important fact that James, the brother of Jesus, was martyred. In his work Antiquities 20 v.9, we read:

“…and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned”.

Now, before we look at the next reference we should note that the above reference to Jesus’ brother is, according to the world’s leading Josephus Flavius scholar, Louis Feldman “almost universally acknowledged”, and thus beyond dispute. Here we have a legitimate reference to the historical Jesus and his brother.

Now, the other reference we find in the Testimonium Flavium. Scholars have rightfully noted that the reference to Jesus in the text is suspicious since it mentions Jesus in a way that a Jew of the likes of Josephus, who was particularly unsympathetic towards Jesus or early Christianity, would never mention him. It is as if Josephus exalts Jesus more than he should, and the result is that scholars have questioned its authenticity, and thus concluded that it is a Christian interpolation.

However, scholars unanimously agree that Josephus did mention Jesus in the original before altered copy. But fortunately scholars have managed to reconstruct what they think the original writing of the Testionium Flavium actually looked and read like, they suggest the following:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

According to another authoritative Jewish scholar, by the name of Geza Vermes, the reconstructed edition of the Testimonium provides Josephus’ authentic portrayal of Jesus, depicting him as a wise teacher and miracle worker with an enthusiastic group of followers who remained faithful to him after his crucifixion by Pilate, up to the time of Josephus. According to scholar Michael Bird “Authors like Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius and Tacitus from the late first and early second century wrote about Jesus too… [which] sounds pretty early to me, as least in comparison to other historical figures.” So, what facts can we get about Jesus from these two references?

We find that Jesus lived in the first century, that he was an allegedly wise man, that he was a teacher and did startling and unusual deeds, that men believed that he taught the truth, that he gained a following of many Jews and many Greeks, that Pontius Pilate condemned him to the cross, that some were loyal to him and never forsook him, and that from him Christianity branched out and amassed a large following. That’s at least 8 facts, most of which are reported and confined within the New Testament.

The Jewish Talmud (400 – 700 AD).

The Talmud is an ancient record of Jewish history, laws, and rabbinic teachings compiled throughout the centuries, and makes several references to Jesus. As a rather hostile anti-Christian source it is no surprise that the Talmud rejects the divinity of Jesus, and rather attempts to attack his character. For example, we read in Sanhedrin 43a that: “Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and deceived and led Israel astray.” In it we also read that:

“Jesus the Nazarene was hanged and a herald went forth before him forty days heralding, Jesus the Nazarene is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and instigated and seduced Israel to idolatry. Whoever knows anything in defense may come and state it.” But since they did not find anything in his defense they hanged him on (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover.”

In Sanhedrin 107 we are told that Jesus (‘Yeshu’) “offended his teacher by paying too much attention to the inn-keeper’s wife. Jesus wished to be forgiven, but [his rabbi] was too slow to forgive him, and Jesus in despair went away and put up a brick [idol] and worshipped it.”

The following verses refer to Jesus within the Talmud:

  • Jesus as a sorcerer with disciples (b Sanh 43a-b)
  • Healing in the name of Jesus (Hul 2:22f; AZ 2:22/12; y Shab 124:4/13; QohR 1:8; b AZ 27b)
  • As a torah teacher (b AZ 17a; Hul 2:24; QohR 1:8)
  • As a son or disciple that turned out badly (Sanh 103a/b; Ber 17b)
  • As a frivolous disciple who practiced magic and turned to idolatry (Sanh 107b; Sot 47a)
  • Jesus’ punishment in afterlife (b Git 56b, 57a)
  • Jesus’ execution (b Sanh 43a-b)
  • Jesus as the son of Mary (Shab 104b, Sanh 67a)

To remain as objective as possible in our pursuit to know about Jesus from extra-Biblical sources I must note that many scholars do not look upon the Talmud as authoritative when trying to study the life of Jesus as they judge it far too late. For example, some scholars like Peter Schäfer think that the Talmud gets its information on Jesus from the Gospels, hence is not independent of them, while others like Paul Maier rejects accounts with no mention of the name Jesus. Maier also discounts those verses that do mention Jesus by name, such as Sanhedrin 43a and 107b, as later medieval changes. However, some scholars do think that information about Jesus can be drawn from the Talmud such as Joseph Klausner, Travers Herford, and Bernhard Pick.


Historian Cornelius Tacitus (116 AD).

Tacitus is a significant Roman historian of whom scholars have learnt much from, we also find that he refers to Jesus in his writing. Tacitus refers to Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Jesus’ execution, and the existence of early Christians in Rome in his final work, Annals (written 116 AD). In Annals Book 15, Chapter 44 Tacitus writes “… called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin …”

Tacitus, along with Josephus, writes about Pilate (the prefect that judged Jesus). However, particularly significant for our cause is that Jesus is mentioned by a hostile and independent source within 100 years of his existence (roughly 80 to 85 years).

Even though the majority of historians believe that Tacitus provides a unique account of Jesus some do still debate it. However, what has convinced some of his significance is that Tacitus was a member of the Quindecimviri sacris faciundis, a council of priests whose duty it was to supervise foreign religious cults in Rome. According to Van Voorst this makes it reasonable to suppose that he would have acquired knowledge of Christian origins through his work with that body, and not based off hearsay and gossip. According to the prominent historian John Crossan “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus… agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.” However, the full passage reads:

“Christus, the founder of the [Christian] 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, by through the city of Rome also.”

We find that it confirms Jesus’ existence, that Jesus was the founder of Christianity, that there was a Roman called Pilate of whom put Jesus to death, that the Christian religion originated in Judea, and thus later spread to Rome. Thus, from Tacitus alone we can get at least six facts that back up the veracity of the New Testament epistles.

Historian Gaius Suetonius (121 AD).

Suetonius is another significant writer from the early 2nd century who gives historians useful information about Roman society. He records the lives of the Roman Caesars and the historical events surrounding their reigns, and in his work the ‘Lives of the Twelve Caesars’ we see a reference to Jesus, as well as the early Christians: “He expelled from Rome the Jews constantly making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus…”

Why does Suetonius call Jesus, Chrestus? Historian Louis Feldman informs us that most scholars assume that in the reference Jesus is meant and that the disturbances mentioned were due to the spread of Christianity in Rome. According to historian James Dunn “Suetonius misheard the name ‘Christus’ (referring to Jesus as Christ) as ‘Chrestus'” and also misunderstood the report and assumed that the followers of someone called Chrestus were causing disturbances within the Jewish community based on his instigation.” According to Professor Robert Van Voorst there is “near-unanimous” agreement among scholars that the use of Chrestus refers to Christ. In hindsight of this, what facts do we get from Seutonius?

Remarkably we get corroboration of events described in the New Testament book of Acts 18:2 where Christian Jews were reported to have been expelled from Rome, thus lending some credence to the historical nature of the early Christian New Testament literature. Jesus is also, arguably, referred to by Suetonius although he misspelled his name Christus as Chestus.

Philosopher Mara Serapion (73 – 200 AD).

Serapion was a stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria, and in a letter (70 – 200 AD) he authored from prison to his son arguably refers to Jesus, indirectly. It’s worth quoting in full:

“What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the “new law” he laid down.” (emphasis added)

According to Robert Van Voorst most scholars date the letter shortly after 73 AD, and he sees little doubt that the reference to the execution of the “king of the Jews” is about the death of Jesus. Bruce Chilton, a scholar of early Christianity and Judaism states that Bar-Serapion reference to the “king of Jews” may be related to the inscription on the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark (15:26).

Also, Serapion mentions the “new law” of which might refer to Jesus’ resurrection after his crucifixion, whether Serapion believed in Jesus or not is unknown. We also know that it is more likely that Jesus is being referred to here as opposed to someone else as Serapion specifically states “just after that their kingdom was abolished,” and only Jesus fits into the appropriate timeline as Titus destroyed Jerusalem a some 36 years after Jesus’ death. The other likely figures are argued to have lived approximately 170-250 years prior to the desolation. However, what facts can we glean from this letter?

We find that Jesus was Jewish, that he was thought to be a wise king, that he was executed, that he was a teacher, and that his teachings were influencing many after his death.

Governor Pliny the Younger (112 AD).

Pliny was a Roman governor of Bithynia-Pontus which is modern Turkey, and he wrote a letter (Epistulae X.96) to Emperor Trajan around 112 AD asking for advice on how to deal with Christians:

“They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.” (emphasis added)

According to Robert Van Voorst the “style matches that of the other letters” in the same book, and the letters “were known already by the time of Tertullian (196-212 AD).” For this reason the genuineness of the passage is accepted. Pliny also informs his reader that Christians were being persecuted for their faith. What facts do we get from this passage?

We learn that Jesus was worshiped, and that believers were persecuted for their belief in him in the early 2nd century. We also find that Christians worshiped on a fixed day before day time, sang hymns to Jesus as if he was God, and that because of Jesus’ teachings they were not to perform any wicked deeds such as fraud, theft, adultery, as well as to never to falsify their word


The Gnostic Gospels (2nd – 4th centuries).

The Gnostic Gospels are pseudonymous texts, written by a sect known as the Gnostics, authored between 100 and 400 AD. The Gnostics evidently tried to reconfigure and distort the Jesus of history to suit their own theological agendas. Historian Dan Wallace explains who these people were: “The Gnostics were an early Christian sect, most likely beginning in the second century, which largely viewed the material world as evil and considered the knowledge of hidden things as the only route to salvation.”

However, their reconfiguration of the historical Jesus goes to extremes, as particularly noted in their chronicling of Jesus’ youth years where we don’t have any information. Similarly, the Gnostic Gospel of Peter embellishes the biblical empty tomb narrative and Jesus’ triumphant exit from the tomb. And in the Gospel of Judas, another manuscript not actually written by Judas (none of the Gnostic texts were actually penned by the names they bear), we find a laughing Jesus, Wallace explains: “This scene involves an unusual yet common feature of the Gnostic gospels: a laughing Jesus. He laughs when someone is doing something out of ignorance, and in this case he laughs in response to the disciples’ prayer of thanksgiving. But the disciples react to the laughter by saying, “We have done what is right.”” In a similar vain N.T. Wright, an authoritative scholar on the historical Jesus, writes that “What we are witnessing is a fictional character called ‘Jesus’ talking to a fictional character called ‘Judas about things the real Jesus and the real Judas would not have understood…”

Of particular interest, since scholarship has focuses on it, is the Gospels of Thomas.

The Gospel of Thomas (+- 110 – 120 AD).

The Gospel of Thomas is not part of the New Testament and its date of authorship is hotly debated among contemporary scholars, as Bart Ehrman comments: “Even though some continue to place the Gospel [of Thomas] in the first century, more widely it is thought that in its current form comes to us from the early second century, say 110 – 20 CE.”

The text is a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus and Dan Wallace, having spent much time interacting with the text, explains that “The Gospel of Thomas is not a narrative gospel like our four canonical gospels. Unlike Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, the Gospel of Thomas is almost exclusively a string of sayings—114 in all—that Jesus purportedly uttered. There are no travel scenes, no mention of Galilee or Jerusalem or any other city, no miracles, no healings, no exorcisms—just sayings.” Wallace also notes the difficulty concerning its dating: “One of the reasons that the date of the Gospel of Thomas is so elusive is that this book has no narrative” and that is was written “probably between AD 120 and 140. But this is hardly a consensus; some suggest an earlier date while others argue for a later one.“


Clement of Rome (95-97 AD)

Clement was martyred in 98 AD for his willingness to spread his belief in Jesus to as many people as possible. The date of his death makes Clement an early source since he would have written his work before his death. This would give him credence as a first-hand account of early Christianity. Although his epistle did not make in into the canonical collection it was still collected by the early church fathers. We find that Clement was well educated on Old Testament matters and was likewise familiar with the Pauline epistles. In his writings he alludes to Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians, and other New Testament literature (Epistle to the Hebrews, and possible material from Acts, James, and I Peter). Nevertheless, in his letter to Corinth Clement confirms the ministry of the disciples and some of the basic aspects of early Christianity, he writes:

“The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and being fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God will full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their first fruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe.”

Clement was, according to Tertullian and Jerome, personally ordained by Jesus’ most intimate disciple Peter of Peter. This, and due to its earliness, is why Clement can be seen as authoritative source.

Ignatius of Antioch (110 AD +)

Ignatius was a Bishop of Antioch reported, like Clement, to have been appointed to his position by Peter of whom he was a disciple, as well as also believed to be a disciple of Paul and John. Ignatius was arrested by the Romans and executed as a martyr in the arena around 100 AD. Ignatius, like Clement of Rome, writes extensively on the historical Jesus in Trallians, Smyrneans 1, and Magnesians xi. In his letters he touches on the deity of Jesus (Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 7), the Eucharist (Ignatius to the Ephesians 20:2, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1), the replacing of the Sabbath with the Lord’s Day (Ignatius to the Magnesians 8:1, 9:1-2, 10:3), and emulates the Apostle Paul by quoting 1 Corinthians 1:19 in a letter to the Ephesians (Letter to the Ephesians 18).

It is possible, judging by Theodoret (393 – c. 458 AD), that Ignatius was  appointed to the Antioch by Peter, the disciple. Likewise We are also aware that John Chrysostom (349 – 407 AD), the Archbishop of Constantinople, emphasizes the honor bestowed upon Ignatius as he personally received his dedication from the Apostles. One should remain aware that Theodoret & Chrysostom come onto the scene far later, which means that one could question their reliability concerning the link between Peter and Ignatius.

Even though his testimony would ultimately lead to his death, Ignatius was adamant about the things he witnessed. He reinforces early Christian beliefs in the letters he wrote while in prison, and refused to recant his faith in the face of death.


Hypothetical Q (40-70 AD).

The gospels authors of Luke & Matthew consult a hypothetical (no longer existing) source that predated them, known as Q. For instance, Matthew and Luke both consult the Gospel of Mark, but via textual criticism we can see that Matthew and Luke also consulted another source alongside Mark, but of which does not exist anymore. This is what is known as hypothetical Q; it is believed to consist of sayings found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Although scholars almost unanimously accept its existence at one point in time it is true we know little about it, as Dan Wallace explains: “Though we would agree that Q really existed, we still don’t know much about it. After all, all we can go on are snippets from Q that were used by Matthew and Luke. The bottom line is that we know nothing of Q’s nature, size, and import beyond its use in Matthew and Luke.”

Nevertheless, Q gets us closer to the initial events of Jesus’ life at it dates prior to the Gospel of Mark (our earliest Gospel at around 70AD). Some scholars seem to date the document in the 40’s whilst others date it in the 50’s, yet still others seem to suggest that it could be dated within the 30’s based on Q containing six wisdom speeches. Q, however, provides sound information on Jesus, as Professor James Dunn explains that “Q does show awareness of Jesus’ death.” Q source further provides us with narratives concerning the Devil’s three temptations of Jesus, the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and many individual sayings. Whatever the case this brings us closer to Jesus’ death around 30 AD.

Luke’ Unique Material, L (40-70 AD).

Scholars argue that the author of the Luke consulted an additional source. This content constitutes what is known as L. L is any content within Matthew’s gospel that is not found in or Mark. It is therefore believed that in forming his Gospel Luke combined Mark, the Q source, and L. 

The reason behind L is that there are narratives only seen in Luke. These include the stories of the prodigal son, and the good Samaritan. L may have included oral traditions, or written sources, or a combination of written & oral sources about Jesus.

Mathews Unique Material, M (30-50 AD).

Like L, M is an additional tradition Matthew’s author used. M is data neither found in Q or MarkM contains several parables regarding Jesus, namely the parable of the weeds among the wheat, of the treasure, of the pearl, of the net, of the unforgiving servant, of the labourers in the vineyard, of the two sons, and of the ten virgins. Thus Matthew‘s author sourced content from three sources: Mark, Q, and L.

Pre-Markan Passion Narrative (33 AD +).

This is a source that Mark (our earliest Gospel) had used in order to compose his story of the Passion Narrative. This source is widely accepted by scholars today, but what seems to be in dispute and in debate is exactly what its contents said. As explains William Lane Craig: “Most scholars today agree with this (that Mark had a source he used). Any reconstruction of this source is controversial, and not widely accepted. That is to say, did verse 5 of chapter 15 belong to the pre contents of the pre-Markan passion source may be in debate, the actual existence of this source is readily accepted.”

Although it is unlikely, according to Euangelion Markon, that we would be able to “reconstruct it with any kind of precision” we can be confident that it included content on the Last Supper (14:12-6), and the singing of the Hallel Psalms (14:26)..

Nevertheless, as Craig goes on to say, “That Mark was using and relied upon a pre-Markan passion story is one that is widely accepted by most scholars today, and because it goes back so early it is probably based upon eyewitness testimony.”

Pre-John Signs Gospel (prior to 95 AD).

Our latest gospel by date is the Gospel of John (95 AD) that is independent of all the synoptics. However, it also contains references to sources that predated it, as Bart Ehrman explains: “But scholars have long suspected that John had at his disposal an earlier written account of Jesus’ miracles (the so-called Signs Source), at least two accounts of Jesus’s long speeches (the Discourse Sources), and possibly another passion source as well.”

Creeds (35 AD).

According to exegete Gary Habermas “The creeds “preserve some of the earliest reports concerning Jesus from about AD 30-50.” One creed that Habermas refers is found in 1 Corinthians 15 (v 1-11) that holds a tradition that the Apostle Paul received. This creedal formula is dated to within five years of Jesus’ death thus making it extraordinarily early. According to the Professor Dan Wallace this creed speaks “of Jesus as being seated at God’s right hand, and Paul defends physical resurrection as part of the passed-on tradition he received when he became a Christian, beliefs he reports in the AD 50s but that reach back to his conversion in the 30s.”

Another creed can be found in Philippians 2:7-8 in the form of a hymn. Dave Desonier explains that “Several of the creeds speak directly to the facts of Jesus existence, including his birth, humanity, and lineage. As just one example, Philippians 2:7-8, considered part of a “pre-Pauline hymn” of the early church, attests the human nature of Jesus.”

Desonier goes on to say that “The earliest materials available concerning the life of Jesus are the oral creeds of the nascent Christian church. These creeds were formulated years before the New Testament books were written, and were passed down verbally among new Christians.”

Thallus (50 AD).

Although his works exist only in fragments, Julius Africanus (160 – 240 AD) argues against Thallus’ explanation of the darkness that occurred during the Passover of Jesus’ crucifixion. Thallus tries to dismiss the darkness as a natural occurrence, as a solar eclipse, but Africanus argues that a solar eclipse cannot occur during a full moon. The a 2nd century secular historian Phlegon of Tralles also seems to mention the darkness and tries to dismiss it as a solar eclipse. Phlegon also tells us that the event occurred during the time of Tiberius Caesar. The passage in Chronography XVIII, 47 of Africanus is worth quoting, it reads:

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness. 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. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover. But an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time… Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth-manifestly that one of which we speak.”

William Lane Craig, philosopher and exegete, argues that “On the other hand, if Thallus wrote his History prior to the Gospels, then his testimony becomes very interesting, indeed. The dating of his work is uncertain, but most scholars date Thallus’ History to the mid-first century, that is, sometime around AD 50, just 20 years after Jesus’ crucifixion in AD 30. By contrast most scholars date Mark’s Gospel to around AD 66-70.”

We can, nevertheless, mine some facts from this piece. One commentator explains that: “If only more of Thallus’ record could be found, we might find more confirmation of Jesus’ crucifixion. But there are some things we can conclude from this account: Jesus lived, He was crucified, and there was an earthquake and darkness at the point of His crucifixion.”

Phlegon (140 AD).

Similarly to Thallus above, Julius Africanus makes reference to a historian named Phlegon who wrote a chronicle of history around 140AD. In his writing we find that Phlegon also mentions the darkness surrounding the crucifixion in an effort to explain it. As Africanus reports in his Chronology: “Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth to the ninth hour.”

Another church father, Origen, mentions the writings of Phlegon: “And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place … ”

Lucian of Samosata (120 – 180 AD).

Lucian was a 2nd century Greek satirist who ridicules both Christians and Jesus. He was well educated and more than 80 books bear his name. Notably, in his writings he confirms that Jesus was executed via crucifixion and that he was the founder of Christianity:

“The Christians, you know, 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 they are converted and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws”

According to Robert Van Voorst, Lucian “knows that Christians worship a god who was a man, and who was crucified in Palestine… He accurately reports several things about second-century Christianity.”

Commentator Jim Wallace tells us that Lucian “did affirm they were real people and never referred to them as fictional characters.” This is an important piece of data since if Jesus really was just a fictional character Lucian would have discovered it, and very likely have used it in his satire. According to Lucian we find out that Jesus did exist, that he was the founder of Christianity, was worshiped by his followers, and suffered death by crucifixion. Scholar van Voorst also argues that Lucian did not receive his information from Christian literature: “The use of the non-New Testament words “patron,” “lawgiver,” and especially his characteristic word for “crucified” also argues tellingly against a New Testament source. So there is no literary or oral connection between Lucian and the New Testament and other early Christian literature in regard to the person of Jesus.”


1. Non-Biblical Facts. 

Gary Habermas demonstrates that, from extra-biblical sources alone, Jesus had a brother called James (Josephus), and was located in Palestine (Tacitus, Lucian, Acts of Pilate). Jesus was known to be a wise, virtuous and ethical man (Josephus, Mara Serapion) who was reported to have both performed miracles (Acts of Pilate) and made prophecies that were fulfilled (Phlegon, cf. Josephus). A result of his ministry was that he had many disciples, from both the Jews and the Gentiles (Josephus, Talmud). At the beginning of his ministry he encountered a man called John the Baptist of whom baptized him (Josephus).

Jesus was worshiped as a deity (Pliny, Lucian), and some believed he was the Messiah (Josephus) and called him “king” (Mara Serapion). Some people saw Jesus as a philosopher with unique teachings (Lucian, Mara Serapion, Gospel of Thomas). The Jewish leaders judged Jesus as guilty of apostasy (Talmud, cf. Apocryphon of John), and no-one came forward to support Jesus in his trial (Talmud). He died at the hands of Pontius Pilate (Tacitus) who crucified him (Josephus, Talmud, Lucian, Gospel of Truth, Acts of Pilate). The event occurred on Passover Eve (Talmud), he was nailed to a cross (Phlegon, Gospel of Truth, Acts of Pilate, cf. Tacitus), and after his death the executioners gambled over his clothing (Acts of Pilate). There was a three-hour darkness at the moment of the crucifixion (Thallus, Phlegon), and an earthquake (Phlegon), all of which corroborates New Testament events.

Jesus’ teachings spread after his death (Tacitus, cf. Suetonius, Pliny), the Christian religion was named after Jesus (Tacitus), Christians formed a section of society (Pliny), and exercised faith in Jesus’ teachings (Lucian). Christians also believed in their own eternal immortality and scorned death (Lucian), and that Jesus’ death procured their salvation (Gospel of Truth). The disciples never abandoned Jesus’ teachings even in persecution (Josephus), and many Christians were exiled from Rome for their beliefs in him (Suetonius). Many were also still present in Rome by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Tacitus, Suetonius). They were also described as law breakers for meeting in secret, and were blamed for drinking blood, and burning their children (Pliny, cf. Trajan, Hadrian).

According to Habermas a few of the forged Gnostic sources are also corroborative of the New Testament literature. They relate that on one occasion that Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was (Gospel of Thomas), that Jesus was flesh and blood (Gospel of Truth, Treatise on Resurrection), and that he had the title “Son of Man” (Gospel of Thomas). Jesus was also said to be the “Son of God” (Treatise on Resurrection, Gospel of Truth, Gospel of Thomas).

Therefore, we can sketch a historical portrait of what earliest Christianity was like.

2. Facts From the Early Church Fathers.

Jesus became a man (Barnabas), was born of Mary (Ignatius) who was herself a virgin (Ignatius, Justin), and that he came from the tribe of Judah (Justin) and was of the lineage of Jesse and David (Justin, Ignatius). Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem near Jerusalem, and that his birth was recorded and could be verified by the records of Cyrenius, who was the first procurator of Judea (Justin). Jesus was also visited by Arabian Magi who had first seen Herod (Justin). With regard to his public ministry, Jesus was preceded by John and was baptized by him (Ignatius), and chose his apostles (Barnabas, Justin).

Jesus performed miracles (Quadratus, Barnabas, Justin martyr). We also find that that some people were healed and others raised from the dead and that some of the eyewitnesses of these occurrences were still alive (Quadratus), and that Pontius Pilate filed a report with the Roman officials that corroborated these details (Justin). Additionally, Jesus both fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, thus in the process validating his claims (Justin), and also made prophecies himself that were later fulfilled (Phlegon) whereby Jesus predicted his own resurrection (Justin).

3 responses to “Extra-Biblical Evidence for the Historical Jesus.

  1. Pingback: Jesus vs. Muhammad: Historical Evidence Comparison. | Historical Jesus studies.·

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