esus — he was a real person, right? While most contemporaries of the era tend to err on the side of caution and agree that he probably did, there are massive gaps in the evidence. In fact, I’m amazed just how little direct evidence there is for his existence.
The following sources are held up as extra-biblical sources (documents other than the Bible) from Christians, scholars and lay believers alike, that apparently prove Jesus’ existence.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
At first glance it seems intriguing. However there are a few problems:
- Josephus was born between five and ten years after Jesus died so could not have met him
- Many believe — with good reason — that Josephus’ writings were edited at a later date (around a century) by somebody incensed that he did not discuss Christ in more detail
- The actual text was compiled at end of the 1st century when Jesus had been dead at least 50 years.
“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome
- This text is second century
- It recounts something he was told by others
- Chrestus is a common Greek name from the period
- Vague text that does not expand on why the Jews were expelled from Rome
- Suggests that “Chrestus” whoever he was, was present in Rome. Nobody has ever said Jesus went to Rome
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 his third book of History, calls (as appears to me without reason) an eclipse of the sun
- There is no mention of Jesus
- Original text does not survive. Above passage is being paraphrased, not reproduced, by Julius Africanus
- Second century date
- This is reporting a natural disaster, so why is this held up as proof of Jesus?
Pliny The Younger
Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ
- Pliny the Younger wrote this in the 2nd century
- Discusses Christians and how to deal with their insolence toward the Emperor
- Proves only the existence of Christians — this no more proves the existence of Jesus than the existence of Flat Earthers proves that the Earth is flat.
- No mention of Jesus
It is taught: On the eve of Passover they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that “[Yeshu] is going to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him.” But no one had anything exonerating for him and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ulla said: Would one think that we should look for exonerating evidence for him? He was an enticer and G-d said (Deuteronomy 13:9) “Show him no pity or compassion, and do not shield him.” Yeshu was different because he was close to the government.
- The Talmud is comprised of two parts that were compiled three hundred years apart. Part 1 was written in the third century, the second part in the sixth century
- Discusses only what Christians teach. Recounting what Christians believe is not proof that their beliefs are true
- References The Bible as a source for its claims — these are supposed to be extra-biblical evidences!
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.
- Lucian wrote in the 2nd century
- Discusses Christian beliefs
- Content is little more than tittle tattle
Many of the above are not contemporary, several are recounting what they have been told yet they are held up time and time again as the best evidence we have of the existence of Jesus.
I’m Matt, pen name MG Mason. I write here primarily about British history and archaeology though sometimes other areas of Europe too. My main areas of passion include medieval history, and Roman Britain. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology and a Master of Arts in Landscape Archaeology, both from University of Exeter.